1pt win Black Op @9/2, 15:35 Cheltenham, Saturday

Festival hopefuls go on trial at Cheltenham on Saturday, where the 3m Grade 2 Cleeve Hurdle probably looks the best race of the day, attracting plenty of the names in the mix for the Stayers’ Hurdle back at the track in March.

I think the betting market has it spot on with the unexposed trio of Paisley Park, Midnight Shadow and Black Op jostling for favouritism at around 4/1, with the more exposed contenders unfancied at bigger prices.

I won’t go through each and every runner, but the likes of Wholestone, Agrapart and Unowhatimeanharry are yesterday’s horses and I wouldn’t back Sam Spinner again with counterfeit money after his last two performances.

Aux Ptits Soins is enjoying a new lease of life under the guidance of his new trainer Dan Skelton, as well as receiving weight from most of his rivals, so he looks like the type to run well in this for each-way backers, however his class is very questionable against Grade 1 horses.

Paisley Park has improved steadily to be a Grade 1 winner and carries a 6lb penalty for his win in a weak renewal of the Long Walk Hurdle at Ascot at Christmas, but he bombed out on his sole visit to Cheltenham.

His 2l beating of West Approach is naff form to my eye and there are just too many question marks against him to feel confident he can defy his penalty – that said, 4/1 is a perfectly fair price.

Midnight Shadow won the Relkeel Hurdle on New Year’s Day fairly easily and connections rate him very highly, but he’s never raced over three miles and also carries a penalty so has plenty to prove.

He might even be a shade of value at 9/2 given he’s only a six-year-old and the most obvious horse in the race in terms of being potential Grade 1 class.

However, I’ve been very keen on BLACK OP for this race ever since his novice chasing campaign was aborted due to his clumsy jumping.

That he managed to finish beaten only seven lengths behind Lostintranslation in the Dipper on New Year’s Day, despite hitting almost every fence on his way around, proves he’s got an enormous engine – which was also evident in his novice hurdling days where he won a Grade 1 from Lostintranslation at Aintree and found only the superstar Samcro a couple of lengths too good at the Cheltenham Festival.

He wasn’t a fluent hurdler either and clearly has jumping problems, but he’s unexposed at three miles and has always finished his races extremely strongly to suggest a step up in trip is what he wants – and Cheltenham is a track he likes.

1pt win Black Op @9/2, 15:35 Cheltenham, Saturday

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