Sunday 5 February 2023

Cleeve Hurdle

The Cleeve Hurdle is a Grade 2 hurdle race run over 2 miles, 7 furlongs and 213 yards on the New Course at Cheltenham in January. Open to horses aged five years and upwards, the race is scheduled for Festival Trials Day, some six weeks or so before the Cheltenham Festival and, as such, is considered a major trial for the Stayers' Hurdle.

The Cleeve Hurdle was inaugurated, as the Bishops Cleeve Hurdle, in 1983, taking its name from the village of Bishop's Cleeve, which stands at the foot of Cleeve Hill – the highest point in the Cotswolds – north of Cheltenham. Initially contested over 2 miles and 4 furlongs, the race was lengthened in 1989, again in 1994 – when the title was shortened – and again, to its current distance, in 2005. The Cleeve Hurdle was promoted straight from Listed to Grade 1 status in 1991, but demoted to Grade 2 status in 2005. At that stage, the race as good as took the place of the Premier Hurdle, which was previously run over a similar distance at Haydock Park on Peter Marsh Chase Day.

Prior to 2005, Venetia Williams completed a notable hat-trick with Lady Rebecca (1999, 2000, 2001) but, since the race was downgraded, Emma Lavelle and Paul Nicholls also saddled three winners apiece. Nicholls saddled Big Buck's (2009, 2012) and Saphir Du Rheu (2015), while Lavelle was successful with Paisley Park (2019, 2020, 2022).

Paisley Park, who won the Stayers' Hurdle as a seven-year-old, may be a 33/1 chance for the stayers' championship this time around, but has been far from disgraced in the last two renewals. He could yet prove a force to be reckoned with in the Cleeve Hurdle by the time Saturday, January 28, 2023 rolls around, although his trainer has said, 'He owes us nothing and we’ll let him tell us what he wants to do.'