Trials Day at Cheltenham is always one of the highlights of the season and this Saturday will be no different. Punters and racing fans will be flocking to the Gloucesterhsire track and tuning in on Channel 4 for a thrilling day of action with the Festival now just a six weeks away. There are a number of big races on the day to enjoy with some of the best known horses in the sport set to take their chance in some highly competitive renewals. As well as being a big day in its own right, there will be bags full of Festival clues to be gleaned with direct trial races for the World Hurdle, the Triumph Hurdle, the Gold Cup and Neptune Investment Novices Hurdle on the agenda.
As always, we have a full preview of the weekend action picking out some of those horses who could be ready to take centre stage. The feature card will of course be at Prestbury Park but there will also be some big names at Doncaster on Saturday, while the action moves to Leopardstown on Sunday for some more pre-festival clues.
CheltenhamTube: Festival Ante Post Update
We are delighted to have our site tipster, Tom Lee, of Channel 4 Racing and RTE Ireland giving his lowdown on the big names running this weekend in the first of our Cheltenham Festival preview videos. Tune in below to see what Tom's got to say about the action over the next couple of day's plus some other ante post updates.
Cheltenham on Saturday
There is no doubt whatsoever that the star horse on show on Cheltenham Festival Trials Day will be the legendary Big Buck's who will be making his return to the track after 14 months off. The Paul Nicholls trained 11-year-old has won the World Hurdle on no less than four occasions, but after picking up an injury missed his chance for number five last March. The decision was made to give the horse a long break and his run in the Cleeve Hurdle this weekend should tell us plenty about how much ability he retains.
Big Buck's is reported to be in good form at home but given his age and the length of his lay-off, there will be plenty of racing fans holding their breath this weekend. Add to that the quality of his opponents at Cheltenham and there is no doubt that Cleeve Hurdle will be the most highly anticipated race of the day. Reve De Sivola will offer a stern test for the returning hero while At Fishers Cross and Boston Bob are also more than capable of running massive races if on form. Whoever comes out on top in the Cleeve will immediately be slashed for the World Hurdle at the Festival, which ensures that this race takes on even more significance.
The first race on the card will be the Triumph Hurdle Trial and as the name suggests, there will be plenty of festival clues on show. The juvenile division has been wide open so far this season and a number of the leading hopes will be testing their claims here, against each other. Among those entered for this one are Kentucky Hyden who will go for Nicky Henderson and Vicenzo Mio for Paul Nicholls, with both currently well fancied for the Triumph Hurdle itself in March.
Paul Nicholls will be hoping for more success later on in the Argento Chase with Rocky Creek set to represent the Ditcheat trainer there. The eight-year-old ran second in the Hennessy Gold Cup last time out and at this stage we still don't really know quite how good he is. A strong run from him here could well see him aimed at the Gold Cup while the same can be said of Houblon Des Obeaux and Harry Topper, who are likely to be his main rivals this weekend.
The Novices hurdle division is a highly competitive one this season but we should get some more clues here with the Neptune Investment Management Novices Hurdle taking place. This one acts as a key trial for the Festival race of the same name and there are some very interesting runners set to clash against each other in this one. Chief among those is Rathvinden who has shown some good form this season and will be making the trip over from Ireland for Willie Mullins. He is highly thought of, as is Red Sherlock for David Pipe, who is another entered for a race which is sure to have a major impact on the Festival markets.
Doncaster on Saturday
Cheltenham may be the main event on Saturday but there is a cracking card also taking place up at Doncaster this weekend. The star attraction is likely to be the mare Annie Power who is coming over from Ireland looking to continue her unbeaten run. The six-year-old will be running in the Doncaster Mares Hurdle over two miles with her Festival plans still very much up in the air. Mullins and connections have the option of the Champion Hurdle, the David Nicholson Mares Hurdle and the World Hurdle for this horse who really could still be anything.
Punters will be expecting Annie Power to win here quite comfortably but the outcome will be far less certain in the Racing Post Lightning Stakes on the same card. This looks like a real cracker of an Arkle Chase trial over two miles with a number of Cheltenham hopefuls set to take their chance. Chief among those is Rock On Ruby who will be having his second start over fences for Harry Fry.
Rock On Ruby is a former Champion Hurdler as we know but to be considered a potential Arkle winner, he will surely need to lay down a marker here. The same can be said of Valdez for Alan King and Caid Du Berlais for Paul Nicholls, with both having shown some good form this season and with both currently towards the head of the Arkle betting ahead of this one.
Leopardstown on Sunday
The top class action continues in Ireland on Sunday with the Irish Champion Hurdle taking centre stage at Leopardstown. All eyes will be on the great Hurricane Fly who will be looking to win the race for a fourth year-in-a-row and equal the record of the legendary Istabraq in the process. The Willie Mullins trained ten-year-old looked as good as ever over Christmas when winning the Ryanair Hurdle and he is the hot hot favourite to claim another Grade 1 success on Sunday.
The main threat to Hurricane Fly will once again come from the duo of Jezki and Our Conor who are both top class in their own right. All three are on target for the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham and it will be fascinating to watch them for the final time before March. Jezki and Our Conor will need to improve plenty from their performances behind Hurricane Fly over Christmas, but in truth it is hard to see them reversing the form here against the legendary favourite.
The Irish Champion Hurdle maybe the feature race on Sunday but it is the Irish Arkle over two miles which is perhaps the most intriguing. As the name suggests, this race will have a major impact on the Arkle market for the Festival as well as being a Grade 1 race in its own right. Willie Mullins will be saddling Felix Yonger in the race with the eight-year-old looking for his third win of the season for connections.
Felix Yonger came unstuck last time out over 2m3f at Limerick on Boxing Day but a drop back to 2m1f should suit here and he is expected to run well. It won't be easy though with other Arkle contenders like Defy Logic, Mozoltov and Trifolium all set to oppose here in what could be the best trial for the Irish Arkle contenders so far this winter.
Cheltenham Festival Trials Day Card - 25th Jan 2014