Festival Trials Day is one of the most informative race days in the National Hunt calendar – indeed in 2019, Frodon, Paisley Park and Siruh Du Lac all followed up their Trials Day victories with success at the Cheltenham Festival.
Saturday’s seven-race card contains six Graded contests, all of which act as a trial for a race at the Cheltenham Festival, and some of the biggest names in the sport are going to be having their final race at this meeting before the big one in March.
One of the biggest stories of the 2019 Cheltenham Festival was Bryony Frost’s Ryanair Chase victory on Frodon, making her the first female rider to win a Grade 1 contest over obstacles at the Cheltenham Festival.
Frodon became the fifth horse to win the Paddy Power Cotswold Chase before following up at the Festival and although he isn’t among this year’s Cotswold Chase (2.25) entries, it will be a seriously strong renewal should all nine five-day entries stand their ground, and a major pointer towards this year’s Gold Cup.
2019 RSA Chase runner-up Santini, a general 9/1 chance in the Gold Cup market, is no bigger than 7/4 to book his place at the Festival but that looks a short enough price given the strength of opposition he could face on Saturday, not least from last year’s Gold Cup third Bristol De Mai. His supporters also need to be aware of the following statistic: the last favourite to win this race was Cyfor Malta way back in 1999!
Delta Work, winner of the Grade 1 Savills Chase at Leopardstown over Christmas, will be a massive player if he turns up here but it appears much more likely that he will instead head to the Irish Gold Cup next month.
This is also a race that can have a bearing on the Grand National. 2015 winner Many Clouds became the third horse to win this race and go on to Aintree glory and the likes of Top Ville Ben and De Rasher Counter are both possible Aintree contenders this season.
Paisley Park Expected To Prevail
All eyes will be on Paisley Park in the Cleeve Hurdle (3.35) where the Emma Lavelle-trained star is odds-on to follow up last year’s 12-length romp in the race.
Paisley Park became the seventh horse since 1990 to win this race then follow up in the Stayers’ Hurdle at the Festival but many think he’ll be tested by up-and-coming stayer If The Cap Fits this time around.
The opening JCB Triumph Hurdle Trial is always a big pointer to the Triumph Hurdle at the Festival, with Peace And Co (2015) and Defi Du Seuil (2017) doing the double in the last four years.
Peace And Co was owned by Simon Munir and Isaac Suade and those now famous two-tone green silks will be represented by either Mone Cristo or Guena Des Mottes this time around, although the former looks the more interesting given he was a winner at Auteuil on his final start in France.
Joseph O’Brien won this race with talented Fakir D’oudaries 12 months ago and Cerbrus, who was second in a Grade 1 last time, looks another talented performer from his yard.
Samcro, one of the biggest hype-horses of recent years, is a fascinating entry in the Timeform Novices’ Handicap Chase (1.15) but he’ll do well to concede weight to a bunch of unexposed rivals if he does take his chance.
That contest could have a major bearing on the Close Brothers Novices’ Chase, a double achieved by Mister Whitaker as recently as 2018.
The famous green and gold silks of JP McManus have been carried to victory in the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle (3.00) no less than five times since 2007 and all eyes will be on his unbeaten five-year-old Sporting John who is a red-hot 6/4 favourite to maintain his unbeaten record on Saturday.
The Albert Bartlett is the most likely Festival destination for whoever wins that Grade 2 race and the likes of At Fishers Cross, Bobs Worth and Wichita Lineman have all done that particular double in recent years.