- 12.40 Cheltenham - Protektorat - 6/1 William Hill
- 1.15 Cheltenham - Spiritofthegames - 12/1 Betway
- 1.50 Cheltenham - Dingo Dollar - 9/1 BetVictor
- 2.25 Cheltenham - Terrefort - 7/2 Unibet
- 3.00 Cheltenham - Jarveys Plate - 11/4 Paddy Power
Protektorat To Triumph
Betting for the opening race on Cheltenham Festival Trials day is dominated by the Nicky Henderson-trained pair Adjali and Torpillo, but my eye is caught by Protektorat (6/1 William Hill).
He brings some strong French form into this Triumph Hurdle Trial, having been second in a Listed race at Auteuil in September, a three-year-old hurdle that has been contested by the likes of Aintree Hurdle hero L’Ami Serge and Grade 2-winning chaser Irish Saint, who won for Protektorat's former trainer in 2012.
No, things didn’t go to plan for Protektorat on his British debut in December, the son of Saint Des Saints unseating jockey Harry Skelton when 5/2 favourite, but he is sure to have been well schooled since and holds strong claims of providing trainer Dan Skelton with a first victory in this Grade 2, and maybe the Triumph Hurdle itself. He's 40/1 with Unibet for that.
Games Primed For Handicap Debut
Our Novices' Handicap Chase pick Spiritofthegames (12/1 Betwayy) finished fourth in a Grade 2 novice hurdle at Cheltenham in November 2016 and fifth in last March’s Coral Cup over 2m1f on soft going.
The Dan Skelton-trained seven-year-old has since won a Listed novice chase at Chepstown and finished last of four in Grade 2 company over 2m4f. That 21-length defeat actually doesn’t look too bad in light of the winner Le Bague Au Roi's subsequent Grade 1 success, and the fact the second has now won a novice chase and the third a Grade 2.
The undulating track should cause no issues for Spiritofthegames, who is a versatile type regarding ground, and he looks capable of putting in a bold show on his first start in handicap company over fences.
Put Your Dime On Dollar
Dingo Dollar (9/1 BetVictor) isn't far off favourite for the 2m4f Grade 3 handicap chase, having finished third in the valuable Ladbrokes Trophy at Newbury on his second start of the season.
The seven-year-old had ran well for a long way in that handicap chase and has shown that he is up to being competitive in big handicaps like this. He's never run over less than 2m7f over fences so should be staying on when others have cried enough.
A handicap mark of 148 remains fair, given he placed off this rating last time and he holds strong claims of providing trainer Alan King with a second winner in the race, having won with Annacotty three years ago with Annacotty.
Festival Target Time For Terrefort
Cheltenham's feature race on Saturday is Grade Cotswolds Chase over 3m1f, a race that can be seen as a Gold Cup trial, many winners going on the run in the Festival race, though not many doing the double.
Terrefort (7/2 Unibet) holds an entry in the Cheltenham Gold Cup and the shorter Ryanair Chase, so Saturday's result will go some way to deciding which of those engagements he takes up.
The Nicky Henderson-trained grey won two Grade 1 novices' chase last season, including over 3m1f. He also finished second to Shattered Love in the JLT Novices' Chase at the Festival.
Terrefort began this season finishing last of four due to a hamstring injury, but has been given plenty of recovery time and looks worth backing at 7/2.
Plate To Stake Ballymore Claims
A wide open market welcomes those perusing the Ballymore Classic Novices' Hurdle betting as Birchdale, Champ, Jarveys Plate and Brewinupastorm vye for favouritism in a backed list of entries.
The one for me is Jarveys Plate (11/4 Paddy Power), who is trained locally by Fergal O’Brien and has had his last two starts over hurdles at Cheltenham. The five-year-old was beaten by subsequent Grade 1 winner Elixir Du Nutz on his first visit for a 2m1f novices’ hurdle held on good going, but he more than made amends next time when romping to a 13-length success over 2m4f in Listed company.
Jarveys Plate was ridden from off the pace in that event and ran well when placed in two point-to-points so it was no surprise to see him improve for the step up in distance.
While the Nicky Henderson-trained pair of unbeaten Champ and impressive Newbury winner Birchdale are way ahead of the son of Getaway on ratings, he looks set to provide solid opposition and is worth a bet.