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Pipe launches dual attack on rescheduled Cleeve prize

David Pipe fires a two-pronged assault with mud lovers Main Fact and Ramses De Teillee in the William Hill Cleeve Hurdle at Wetherby on Saturday.

The Grade Two contest was rescheduled after Cheltenham was abandoned last weekend and it has an open look about it with Paisley Park not making the journey to West Yorkshire.

Main Fact was well-beaten behind Paisley Park in the Long Walk Hurdle at Ascot, but Pipe felt he ran below par that day and is expecting a better performance.

Main Fact had won his previous nine races, six over jumps and three on the Flat, and had seen his hurdles rating rocket from 98 to 154.

Main Fact bids to get back to winning ways
Main Fact bids to get back to winning ways (Tim Goode/PA)

“Main Fact should like conditions. I’m not sure he put his true run in last time, so going back left-handed will suit and hopefully he has a chance,” said the Nicholashayne handler.

“Maybe he had an off-day at Ascot or that is as good as he is. We’ll find out this time.”

Ramses De Teillee won a pair of Grade Two novice hurdles last spring and switches back to the smaller obstacles after three runs over fences following a fruitless trip to Auteuil for the French Champion Hurdle in October.

“He’s a hard horse to place nowadays, so we thought we’d try him back over hurdles. He did well over hurdles last year,” said Pipe.

Ramses De Teillee won over fences at Cheltenham back in November
Ramses De Teillee won over fences at Cheltenham back in November (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

“Again, he won’t mind the ground. Track and conditions should suit.

“They’ve both got their flippers on!”

Olly Murphy is giving Itchy Feet a confidence-boosting run over the smaller obstacles after he burst a blood vessel on his last start over fences at Ascot in December.

The Stratford trainer has been pleased the way Itchy Feet has been schooling and believes the seven-year-old has each-way claims.

Itchy Feet is having a confidence-boosting run over hurdles
Itchy Feet is having a confidence-boosting run over hurdles (Steve Paston/PA)

“He’s in good nick. He’s obviously reverting to hurdling and will hopefully get his confidence back,” he said.

“He’s a horse with a big engine and if things go right, he has a good each-way chance.

“He just didn’t jump with any fluency at Ascot. He just had a bleed on his last run.

“I just thought it (reverting to hurdles) was the right thing to do. If he had another fright over fences we might be in all sorts of bother, so that’s why we’re back over hurdles. He’s been schooling well. All his form reads well.”

Nigel Twiston-Davies has put Ballyoptic back over hurdles
Nigel Twiston-Davies has put Ballyoptic back over hurdles (David Davies/PA)

Ballyoptic also reverts to hurdling as he bids to win a third big prize at the West Yorkshire track.

The Nigel Twiston-Davies-trained gelding has won a Charlie Hall Chase and the Towton Novices’ Chase, but has made little show in three starts this term.

“He’s won a Charlie Hall at Wetherby and we’re looking forward to taking him back,” he said.

“He hasn’t run over hurdles in a long time, but we’re struggling to find races for him at the moment – where do you go with a horse rated as high as he is?”

On The Blind Side was not in the original race last weekend, but his trainer Nicky Henderson has given the go-ahead for the nine-year-old to take his chance a week later.

Henderson told Unibet: “He really is in a rich vein of form and hasn’t put a foot wrong at all since winning one of those jumpers’ bumpers at Newcastle around this time last year.

“I really like the way he knuckled down to win at Market Rasen last time when conceding 4lb to Lil Rockerfeller.

“This looks a decent race, but conditions are right for him and I’m hopeful of a big run.”

Bristol De Mai has Cleeve and Cotswold options

Nigel Twiston-Davies has given Bristol De Mai entries in both the rescheduled Cotswold Chase and Cleeve Hurdle, because of uncertainties over the wintry weather this week.

Bristol De Mai is one of six possibles for the Cotswold at Sandown and one of 17 in the Cleeve at Wetherby – with both races switched to this Saturday, after Cheltenham’s Festival Trials card was abandoned last weekend.

Twiston-Davies is leaning towards the Cotswold but felt it wise to put him in the Cleeve as well during such a volatile spell of weather.

“Let’s see what the weather does. We’ve no idea yet,” said the Naunton trainer.

“We’d probably prefer to go for the Cotswold if it was on, but I’ll have to speak to the owners first, so I haven’t a clue at the moment.”

Santini is among six entries for the rescheduled Cotswold Chase at Sandown on Saturday
Santini is among six entries for the rescheduled Cotswold Chase at Sandown on Saturday (David Davies/PA)

The five other Cotswold entries are Lake View Lad, Native River, Saint Calvados, Santini and Yala Enki.

The Cotswold Chase is one of eight races on Sandown’s card, with officials still hoping to stage the meeting as scheduled after the hurdles course just passed an inspection on Tuesday.

However, it is still possible the hurdle races could be lost and replaced with more steeplechase contests.

Clerk of the course Andrew Cooper said: “It would be absolute borderline you could race here this afternoon – and we’re obliged, quite rightly, not to give up on it just yet.

“With an unsettled outlook with spells of rain – we’re expecting one Wednesday morning and showery thereafter – there will be another inspection at some point to decide where we go for Saturday.

“The absolute deadline to make it an all-chase card would be declarations morning on Thursday. If the weather intervenes significantly in the interim, that decision would be brought forward.

“We just felt, given the importance and value of the hurdles race on Saturday, it would be premature to give up on the hurdle races just yet.”

A final decision on the make-up of the fixture will be taken following an inspection at 8am on Thursday. The British Horseracing Authority has made a contingency to add two further chases to make an all-chase six-race card.

A favourable forecast over the next few days gives Wetherby clerk of the the course Jonjo Sanderson every hope the meeting there will go ahead.

Wetherby are optimistic of racing taking place on Saturday (
Wetherby are optimistic of racing taking place on Saturday (Mike Egerton/PA)

“We had a covering of snow overnight, but it turned to drizzle and is thawing away,” he said.

“The temperatures are supposed to rise to eight or nine degrees tomorrow, Thursday and Friday.

“We were absolutely fine on Monday and were back to a point where we were raceable after the waterlogging last week.

“All being well, the fact we’ve got three good days, plus Saturday, for this to drain through, we should be OK. The ground will be heavy all round, I should think.”

With Paisley Park an absentee, as expected, from the rescheduled Cleeve Hurdle, the Grade Two contest has a much more open look.

Lake View Lad could run at either Sandown or Wetherby
Lake View Lad could run at either Sandown or Wetherby (Richard Sellers/PA)

“Paisley Park would have put a few off at Cheltenham, and the fact Emma Lavelle has said she is not coming to Wetherby has opened the race up a bit more to make it a bit more attractive,” Sanderson added.

“We’re delighted to run the race, so it’s not lost. William Hill have stepped in and have added to their package. We’re grateful for their support of the race.”

Like Bristol De Mai, Nick Alexander’s Lake View Lad has an entry in the two races.

Among others in the Cleeve are Ballyoptic, Itchy Feet, Main Fact, On The Blind Side, Ramses De Teillee and Yorkhill.

Paisley Park ‘as good as ever’, says proud owner Andrew Gemmell

Andrew Gemmell is counting down the days to the Cheltenham Festival as his beloved Paisley Park prepares to line up for a third Cleeve Hurdle.

The nine-year-old has won the race for the past two seasons, using it as a springboard to the ultimate prize for horses in his division, the Stayers’ Hurdle.

Paisley Park was a hugely popular winner of the latter race in 2019 – a victory that was made particularly moving by the joy and passion shown by Gemmell, who was born blind and follows his runners via the race commentary alone.

A 2020 title defence was not successful, however, as the Emma Lavelle-trained gelding could only finish seventh when 4-6 favourite and was later found to be suffering from an irregular heartbeat.

Thankfully Paisley Park went on to make a full recovery, as well-evidenced by his two gallant efforts this season; a runner-up spot behind Thyme Hill in the Long Distance Hurdle at Newbury on his first run back and a scintillating last-gasp victory over the same horse in Ascot’s Long Walk Hurdle in December.

Despite the limitations now imposed on owners attending the races, that performance fell at a time when connections could access the racetrack and Gemmell was thrilled to be there as his horse resumed winning ways.

“The race at Newbury, I got more nervous about that than any of the previous races,” he said in a call hosted by Great British Racing.

“Obviously we didn’t know, after the difficulties with the heart, how good he’d be, but he ran such a cracking race behind Thyme Hill.

“It was just such a relief to know he was back in full order again and then to win the Long Walk was truly astonishing.

“It was really terrific, that race against Thyme Hill at Ascot.

Aidan Coleman and Paisley Park (right) on their way to reeling in Thyme Hill
Aidan Coleman and Paisley Park (right) on their way to reeling in Thyme Hill (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

“I think the enthusiasm was really brought to the boil by the race at Ascot, and Simon Holt’s commentary when he got him right at the end was brilliant.”

Like all parties bar a few key industry personnel, Gemmell is now unable to be on a racecourse and is resigned to following the action via the television coverage this weekend.

Victory would be an important stepping-stone to the prize connections covet the most, the retrieval of his Stayers’ Hurdle crown.

“Everything’s been going to plan, which is really exciting,” Gemmell said.

“Everyone’s been saying he’s been doing brilliant pieces of work and it’s all going well, everything’s on course.

“It’s the ideal time span, six weeks from one race (Ascot) to the other (Cleeve Hurdle), six weeks to the next (the Festival). We just can’t wait to get going again.

“I think he’s as good as ever, I just can’t wait for the big day.”

Andrew Gemmell (centre) celebrates Cheltenham Festival glory
Andrew Gemmell (centre) celebrates Cheltenham Festival glory (Andrew Matthews/PA)

Gemmell and his favourite horse have become one of the sport’s most endearing tales, and it is a team trainer Lavelle is grateful to be a part of.

“He’s created a huge interest and deservedly so, he’s a very special horse,” she said of her stable star.

“I can’t believe that I’m saying this live, but Andrew’s a pretty special bloke as well – it’s lovely to have this involvement with them.

“I think the only thing that Paisley’s disappointed about is that with Andrew not coming down, it means that he’s definitely having a reduced load of polos every day!”

Paisley Parks looks the horse to beat, and a triumph will surely elevate his owner’s Cheltenham Festival fever even further.

“It’s everything, really,” he said.

“You’ve got something really exciting and it’s at the end of the rainbow.

“I just can’t wait for it to happen again, the more we’ve gone on, the more excited I get just thinking about it.

“We could be there again and hopefully regain the title.”

Paisley Park ‘bouncing’ for Cleeve hat-trick bid

Paisley Park is reported to be “bouncing” as he prepares for the galliardhomes.com Cleeve Hurdle at Cheltenham this month.

The nine-year-old will be bidding for a hat-trick in the Grade Two contest on January 30, having landed it before going on to glory in the 2019 Stayers’ Hurdle and then winning again 12 months ago.

Paisley Park subsequently failed to fire in his Stayers’ defence last year after suffering a heart issue. But he has roared back to form this term, finishing second in the Long Distance Hurdle at Newbury and then gaining revenge on Thyme Hill in the Long Walk at Ascot before Christmas.

Trainer Emma Lavelle is keen to capitalise on the nine-year-old’s current well-being and is planning to head back to Prestbury Park next.

She said: “He’s absolutely bouncing, and the Cleeve is very much his next race.

“He’s just turned nine – he should be in his prime and running in races.

“He was an odds-on favourite for the Stayers’ Hurdle last year and then he had a heart issue, so I think when they’re well and in good form – I know it’s easy to say with a horse like him – he should go to the races.”