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Cheltenham trials day is an iconic day in the National Hunt horse racing calendar as Nicky Henderson unleashes two of his stable stars this weekend as Chantry House and Champ attempt to light up the Cotswolds.
Chantry House is out to get his Gold Cup bid back on track in the Cotswold Chase while Champ, a one-time Gold Cup hopeful himself, puts his Stayers’ Hurdle credentials on the line in Saturday’s Cleeve Hurdle, a race won for the last two years by one of Champ's rivals, Paisley Park.
Cheltenham Festival credentials will also be in the line at Doncaster where it is Sky Bet Chase Day.
Town Moor plays host to three graded races, notably the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle where trainer Ben Pauling bids to enhance a strong recent record in the contest.
There are eight graded races across Cheltenham and Doncaster so here’s our guide to all the big-race action.
12.45 JCB Triumph Trial Juvenile Hurdle (Grade 2)
This is a fascinating match-up between two of the most promising juvenile hurdles from either side of the Irish Sea.
Paul Nicholls has only ever won this juvenile contest once (Vol Solitaire in 2002) but the 12-time champion trainer looks set to unleash what looks his best juvenile in the shape of Iceo. The French recruit made quite an impression when spread eagling what looked a decent field at Kempton over the festive period and he’s out to prove that he is equally effective on this different track.
However, he faces a very serious rival in the shape of Pied Piper who beat a highly-touted rival at Punchestown on debut and that form looks particularly strong at this stage.
This will provide a good guide to where the British novices compare to their Irish counterparts.
1.55 Paddy Power Cheltenham Countdown Podcast Handicap Chase (Grade 3)
There are question marks over most of these and it looks a tricky punting heat.
The likes of Coole Cody, Whatmore, Spiritofthegames and She'sasupermack are all aged nine or above which means they don’t fit the age profile of horses to have won this race in the last decade (9/10 aged 6-8).
A few of these met on New Year’s Day and it was Magic Saint (4th) that fared best of the bunch on that occasion but he’s shouldering top weight this time around and his best form is all over shorter.
One that looks worth a small wager is Torn And Frayed who hated the heavy ground at Haydock last time. Conditions will be much more to his liking this time, he has some useful novice form in the book at this track and there might be more to come from him over fences.
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2.30 Paddy Power Cotswold Chase (Grade 2)
This revolves around Chantry House who needs to get his career back on track after such a dismal performance in the King George. This track suits him much better as he showed when a dominant winner of the 2021 Marsh Novices’ Chase and there are no excuses this time. A convincing performance will see him firmly back in the reckoning for the Gold Cup but it will be a surprise should he squander this opportunity.
Simply The Betts looks the biggest threat on form but he has to prove that he truly stays this far.
3.05 Welsh Marches Stallions At Chapel Stud Cleeve Hurdle (Grade 2)
Paisley Park is going for a hat-trick of Cleeve Hurdle wins but he has just over five lengths to find with Champ on Long Walk Hurdle form and that looks a bridge too far, not least because there is a good chance that we will see an even better version of Champ this time.
Nicky Henderson’s star has a mixed record at Cheltenham but he looked a superstar when running down Minella Indo and Allaho in the 2020 RSA Chase.
McFabulous doesn’t have comparable form having been held by the mare Stormy Ireland in the Grade 2 Relkeel Hurdle here last time so this looks fairly straightforward for Champ.
3.40 Ballymore Novices' Hurdle (Grade 2)
Hillcrest is the star attraction here and it looks interesting that connections have decided to head back to Prestbury Park for this rather than go up in trip for the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle option at Doncaster.
Hillcrest has already taken the scalp of one of Nicky Henderson’s good novices in I Am Maximus and he will need to give weight and a beating to Balco Coastal if he is going to have any chance of challenging the best of the Irish contenders back here at the Cheltenham Festival.
A Different Kind hasn't put a foot wrong over hurdles and deserves respect for all that this is his toughest assignment to date.
1.35 Lightning Novices' Chase (Grade 2)
Confidence that Third Time Lucki could be a genuine Arkle Chase contender took a hit when he was thrashed by Edwardstone in the Henry VIII Novices' Chase at Sandown.
Dan Skelton’s star novice has an opportunity to breathe some new life into his festival claims by seeing off these lower-rated rivals and follow in the footsteps of Shishkin, who won this race 12 months ago before going on to Arkle Chase glory.
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2.10 Yorkshire Rose Mares' Hurdle (Grade 2)
Miranda is a warm order to win this mares’ hurdle for a second year on the bounce having eased her way to a comfortable four-length success 12 months ago.
She is an odds-on chance to go in again but she does prefer soft ground, which she got last year, and conditions look set to be a fair bit quicker this time around so this might not work out as obviously as the odds imply.
Irish raider Anna Bunina has a poor strike rate but she has form in the book that makes her a big player in this and the step up to 2m4f for the first time could unlock some improvement.
2.45 Albert Bartlett River Don Novices' Hurdle (Grade 2)
This looks wide open. Ben Pauling has won this race three times since 2016 and that increases interest in the improving Not A Present, but the pick here is Unanswered Prayers who has taken a step forward each time he has stepped up in trip and there is more to come from this 6-year-old over three miles. He seemed to enjoy a sound surface earlier in the season and might just have too many gears for his rivals.