Rather unsurprisingly given its name, Cheltenham’s Trials Day has marked itself out as a tried and tested route to Festival glory. Over the past decade, twenty six runners on the last Saturday of January have gone on to victory in March, including three last year.
Here’s the lowdown on those bidding to follow in the footsteps of Siruh Du Lac, Frodon and Paisley Park from 2019. Be sure to check out our tips and analysis this weekend, including action from Doncaster on ITV on Saturday, as well as our Free Bets.
12.40 JCB Triumph Trial Juvenile Hurdle
Two of the last five winners of the Triumph Trial have gone on to glory in the real thing. Defi Du Seuil did the double in 2017 and Simon Munir and Isaac Souede’s Peace And Co completed the feat back in 2015.
The same owner’s have an interesting one in the form of MONTE CRISTO. A winner on his fourth start when trained in France, he’s since joined the Nicky Henderson yard who’ve won four of the last seven renewals. The gelding is currently a best priced 33/1 for the Festival. Victory here, something that looks likely given the weak nature of the race, and that price could be a distant memory.
1.15 Timeford Novices’ Handicap Chase
Mister Whitaker followed victory here in 2018 with success in the Close Brothers’ at the Festival, and that should be the likely target for a number of these. Both Irish Cavalier in 2015 and Rajdhani Express in 2013 were beaten in this race before going on to land the novice handicap at the Festival, so don’t discount those who catch your eye down the field.
Perhaps the most likely winner today is Kim Bailey’s IMPERIAL AURA. The seven-year-old this term with a Grade Three handicap third over hurdles before scoring on chase debut. He was then a clear second to the 149 rated Pym here over three-miles-one. Far from excessively treated from a mark of 136, a big run could see him emerge as favourite for the Close Brothers’.
1.50 Paddy Power Handicap Chase
The one-two in 2019 filled the same positions in the Plate at the Festival six weeks later. Siruh Du Lac gamely held off the attentions of the favourite Janika, and there was little between them in March either.
HIGHWAY ONE O ONE finished second in the novice handicap on this card last year and has shaped positively in his last two runs over further this term, including when only beaten a length at Kempton last time.
He’s definitely one for the handicaps to keep an eye on, but there’s one aiming at a higher level today. Kayley Woollacott’s LALOR created a huge impression when bolting up on chase debut here in November 2018. He was pulled up in the Arkle but posted his best effort since when a short head third over course and distance on New Year’s Day. If he were to get his head in front today, the current 40/1 for the Ryanair could look generous.
2.25 Cotswold Chase
Whilst seen as a trial for the Gold Cup, no horse has gone on to land the Festival showpiece since Looks Like Trouble in 2000. The market suggests that Nicky Henderson could end that hoodoo with SANTINI this year though, who is a best priced 9/1 shot for the Gold Cup.
He’s long been thought of as a Gold Cup horse after an impressive novice hurdling campaign in which he won three of his four starts. A Grade Two winner on chase debut, he placed twice in Grade Ones subsequently, including when denied narrowly in the RSA by Topofthegame. His reappearance victory was far from routine, but he’s had a wind op since and will appreciate the slight step up in trip today.
BRISTOL DE MAI lost his unbeaten record at Haydock in November when second to Lostintranslation. That was still a hugely creditable effort to a progressive rival though, and he ran a big race in last year’s Gold Cup when third. Whilst it’s fair to suspect that he’s not quite good enough to win the highlight of National Hunt racing, 50/1 could represent decent each way value for a horse who has finished in the first three in twenty four of his twenty nine starts over obstacles.
3.00 Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle
Despite its name, two previous winners have gone on to score, not in the Ballymore but in the Albert Bartlett, including Bobs Worth in 2011. The aforementioned Santini won this in 2018 before finishing third in the latter event. Stablemate Birchdale was pulled up at the Festival after an eighteen-length victory in January.
Harry Fry’s KING ROLAND has won a point, two bumpers and, after a second on hurdling debut, a maiden hurdle in just five career starts. His only defeat reads very well, only finding a race fit rival who’s since placed in a Grade One too good. After a nineteen-length victory over two-miles-two last time, he’s available at 25/1 for the Ballymore and 33/1 for the other two hurdling contests.
Another of interest is PROTEKTORAT, who has a big reputation despite only recording one win over hurdles. That came over course and distance in Listed company last time, with an appeal reinstating his victory. The Coral Cup could prove the most likely destination for him, although an impressive win here could force a rethink and see him in either the Albert Bartlett (20/1) or the Ballymore (25/1).
3.35 Cleeve Hurdle
Big Buck’s in 2012, Thistlecrack in 2016 and PAISLEY PARK in 2019 have landed the Cleeve before securing the Stayers’ (World) Hurdle in March. Emma Lavelle’s stable star recorded an impressive twelve-length victory before scoring by three-lengths at the Festival. He’s a warm order to do the same this year, with current prices ranging from 11/8 to Even money.
The main challenger to his crown in both the Cleeve and the Stayers’ looks to be IF THE CAP FITS. Harry Fry’s charge signed off last term with victory at Aintree. He returned in November with a game success over an inadequate two-miles-three trip. He has plenty to find with the jolly currently, but a return to three-miles is a big positive. Victory here, and the 15/2 for the Stayers’ will disappear.