DANNY COOK hopes Midnight Shadow can reaffirm his promise and potential by winning today’s Grade Two Cleeve Hurdle at Cheltenham.
The horse, trained at Bingley by Sue and Harvey Smith, returns to Cheltenham where he was a very impressive winner of the Relkeel Hurdle on New Year’s Day.
And while Midnight Shadow is stepping up to three miles for the first time – and faces Grade One winners like Leyburn trainer Jedd O’Keeffe’s Sam Spinner – Cook is looking forward to the race
A solid performance will see the six-year-old, owned by Cyril and Aafke Clarke, book his place in the Stayers’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival in March – a division which remains wide open.
The key, says Cook who already has four Grade Two successes to his name this season, will be riding Midnight Shadow with restraint before trying to pull clear of his rivals headed by Emma Lavelle’s Paisley Park who came to prominence when winning Ascot’s Grade One Long Walk Hurdle last month.
“Obviously it’s a step up in trip, but it seems like it should suit him and he’s in great form at home, everyone is looking forward to going down,” enthused Cook. “He went through the Relkeel really well – my biggest problem there was not hitting the front too soon, but when I did ask him he really picked up well and put the race to bed.
“He won the Scottish Champion Hurdle over two miles so if he does stay three – with that turn of foot it’s a potent weapon. He’s a big strong horse and hopefully when he goes over fences next year he’ll be a real animal, but we’re all excited about this year first and what it holds.”
Though the Smith stable are renowned for their staying steeplechasers – and Midnight Shadow will, in all likelihood, switch to larger obstacles next season because of his size, stature and scope – they are no strangers to hurdling success at Cheltenham.
They won the 2005 Cleeve Hurdle with Patriarch Express and believe Midnight Shadow’s poor run in last November’s Greatwood Hurdle at Cheltenham, the one disappointing result in the horse’s career, was a one-off.