All being equal with the weather, Cheltenham will host an intriguing day of Festival Trials and an exciting renewal of the Grade Two Cleeve Hurdle on Saturday afternoon. Ten runners have been confirmed for the three mile contest and Nicky Henderson's Oscar Whisky heads the betting but he has plenty to prove after struggling over this distance in the World Hurdle at last year's Festival.
The two-time Aintree Hurdle hero has won both of his starts with ease this season as he cruised to victory at Ascot and Cheltenham. William Hill make him the 6/4 favourite to make it three from three for the season on Saturday but there are question marks over his ability to see out this three mile trip after he faded badly in the World Hurdle at last year's Cheltenham Festival.
That was his only previous effort at this distance and the preference could be for Nick Williams' 9/4 shot Reve De Sivola, who will appreciate a stiff test of stamina. The 8-year-old has been excellent since returning to hurdles as he finished a creditable second to the irrepressible Big Buck's at Newbury before landing the Grade One Long Walk Hurdle at Ascot by a comfortable 14 lengths last month.
Kauto Stone (8/1) is also expected to improve for a return to hurdles after the JNWine Chase winner produced a poor showing in the King George VI at Kempton last time out. The 7-year-old is set to make his first appearance over timber since joining Paul Nicholls from France, where he excelled over hurdles.
Lovcen is another who makes a return to hurdles this weekend and Alan King's gelding could offer each-way value at 25/1 with Hills. The 8-year-old has struggled over fences this season but his progressive form over hurdles last season suggests he could be worth a look on Saturday. Lovcen won a couple of handicap hurdles before finishing a respectable fourth in the Albert Bartlett at Cheltenham Festival, while he continued on an upward curve when winning the Grade One Sefton Novices at Aintree.
Alan King also goes with Walkon this weekend and the 8/1 shot should enjoy the testing ground conditions. The 8-year-old is bidding to get back to winning ways after finishing runner-up to Al Ferof in the PaddyPower Chase before finishing second to Unioniste here in December.
Kentford Grey Lady (14/1) has impressed at Cheltenham in the past as she finished second to Quevega in the David Nicholson Mares last year, although she will have to improve on her third place finish in listed company last time out. Crack Away Jack is also looking to improve for Tom George as the 14/1 shot was well beaten by Oscar Whisky at Wetherby last time out.
Saturday's racecard is completed by 2011 Cleeve runner-up Knockara Beau (25/1), as well as outside bets Cross Kennon (33/1) and Carruthers (40/1), although it is Reve De Sivola who could thrive at this trip, with Lovcen the each-way pick at long odds back over hurdles.
6/4 Oscar Whisky
9/4 Reve De Sivola
6/1 Kauto Stone
14/1 Kentford Grey Lady
14/1 Crack Away Jack
25/1 Knockara Beau
33/1 Cross Kennon
Odds supplied by WilliamHill.com, with best odds guaranteed on all UK and Irish horse racing.
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