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Strong Leader

Strong Leader did well to get as close as he got in the Cleeve Hurdle at Cheltenham on Saturday. He made a significant error at the second flight, and he made another mistake at the third last, just as the pace was increasing. It looked like he might finish last when they quickened on the run down the hill and he came under pressure, he was slow over the second last flight, seventh of seven. But he stayed on well from the home turn on the near side for Gavin Sheehan, over the last and all the way up the hill, to take third place, just over a length behind the winner Noble Yeats. He was fastest of all through the fourth last furlong, the third last furlong and the second last furlong.

It was a fine performance by Olly Murphy’s horse on his first attempt at three miles. Ninth in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle last season, when he was the first British-trained horse home, he probably put up the best performance of his career up to that point in finishing second behind Inthepocket in the Grade 1 Top Novices’ Hurdle at Aintree in April. He won a novices’ hurdle the previous December on his only other run at Aintree. He saw out the three-mile trip well on Saturday in his first-time cheekpieces, and that opens options for him. He is unexposed at the trip. He does not hold an entry in the Stayers’ Hurdle, he could run in the Coral Cup at Cheltenham, but he would be of greater interest if he skipped the Cheltenham Festival and went for the Liverpool Hurdle at Aintree. Three miles around there on good to soft ground could represent close to optimum conditions for him.

Cheltenham, 27th January 2024