Cheltenham Racecourse hosts it’s ‘Trials Day’ on Saturday and we take a closer look at whether it warrants such a title, or it’s used more as a marketing tool to ramp up interest in the Festival which is just seven weeks away.
Juveniles Stake A Claim
Looking at the first race on the card you can make a strong case for the former. The JCB Triumph Hurdle Trial (12.40pm) has produced two winners in the last nine renewals, including last season’s triumphant Peace And Co who was imperious when landing the Triumph a few months later.
The form of the last nine winners of this trial in the Triumph reads:
1 - 2- 2 - DNR - 8 - 3 - 6 - DNR - 1
*DNR - did not run
Figures such as these suggest the race is a strong trial. The 2014 winner Le Rocher, who won the race by 10 lengths from Kentucky Hyden missed the Triumph through injury, but the runner up that day went on to finish second at the Festival, beaten three and a quarter lengths by Tiger Roll.
All eyes will be on the 2016 renewal and the winner could well see a shift in the ante post betting. Of those entered, Alan King’s unbeaten juvenile Who Dares Wins could be the one to take a gamble on at 16/1 for the Triumph pre-race.
Note: Keep an eye out for the Adonis Hurdle ran at Kempton next month. Another strong trial for the Triumph boasting five recent winners including the likes Zarkandar and Penzance.
Novices’ Handicap Supplied 2015 Festival Winner
Run a shade over two and a half miles, the Timeform Novices' Handicap Chase (1.15pm) produced the winner of the CHAPS Novices’ Handicap Chase last season. Generous Ransom took the spoils on Trials Day with the Rebecca Curtis trained Irish Cavalier back in third.
The positions were reversed at the Festival with a six pounds swing and Curtis’s seven year old beating Generous Ransom into third by three lengths.
Producing two of the first three home in it’s like for like race at the Festival, in 2014 Indian Castle won the race and went on to finish 7th in the Festival Plate when sent off a 7/2 favourite and a year earlier Vino Griego, who was successful in this race before finishing second in the Plate a few week’s later.
Winners of this race have run well at the Festival in the subsequent years, with the likes of Bless The Wings returned a few year’s later to finish second in the Kim Muir, whilst the 2011 winner The Giant Bolster was placed in a Gold Cup. In fact, six of the last seven winners of this race have gone on to place at the Festival during their career so you’d be wise to make a note of those running well here.
Djakadam Bids To Break Favourite Hoodoo
Registered as the Cotswold Chase and Saturday's feature has produced three winners who have gone on to win the Gold Cup. Master Oats in 1995 and Looks Like Trouble in 2000 went on to land Cheltenham’s showpiece a few weeks later, whilst See More Business sandwiched the 1999 Gold Cup in between his two wins in this race (’98, ’01).
Gold Cup favourite Djakadam will be sent off a short price in Saturday’s renewal, looking to buck a trend with the race not having a winning favourite since 1999. Last year’s Gold Cup runner up looks to have plenty in hand against Saturday’s field and it would be a shock were he not to win.
Note: This race has produced a Champion Chase winner in One Man (97) and two Grand National winners. Neptune Collonges and Many Clouds, the latter whom won both races last season.
Course Form Important For Festival Handicaps
Saturday’s renewal of the Handicap Trophy (2.25pm) is littered with course winners and although there isn’t a Festival winner amongst them you can bank on a fair few returning to the track in March. The aforementioned Generous Ransom runs off the same mark as when he won in the novice race here twelve months ago.
There isn’t a real trend of recent winners going on to run well at the Festival but with any handicap chase, course winners tend to have a good record at Cheltenham.
Neptune Swimming With Festival Trends
Registered as the Classic Novices’ Hurdle (3.00pm), this two mile four furlong contest will see perspective runners of the Neptune tackle Cleeve Hill.
Three winners in the last nine years have gone on to win at the Festival that season. In 2011, subsequent RSA Chase and Gold Cup winner Bobs Worth took the spoils, whilst Wichita Lineman (2007) and At Fishers Cross (2013) both won this race before stepping up in trip to land the three mile novice hurdle in March. Note: Wichita Lineman would also win a Festival Handicap.
The last two winners failed to land a blow at the Festival, but two leading fancies for this year’s race could face off on Saturday, with Yanworth or Shantou Village likely to be significantly clipped in the betting with a good performance here.
Strong Claims For Stayers In Cleeve Hurdle
The Cleeve Hurdle (3.35pm) is a solid trial for the World Hurdle run at the track on the Thursday of the Festival. Winners of the last ten renewals form in the World Hurdle later in the season reads:
4 - 3 - 1 - 1 - 7 - 2- 1 - 4 - DNR - 2
Last year’s winner Saphir De Rheu was second in the World Hurdle ten months ago, but the likes of Big Buck’s (twice) and Inglis Drever (2008) are stellar winners of both races in the same season.
Leading fancy Thistlecrack looks set to run on Saturday and go off a short priced favourite. The Colin Tizzard trained eight year old has been sensational this season propelling himself to World Hurdle favourite and the trainer will be keen to get a course win under his belt.
Handicap Hurdle Not Lacking In Talent
Lac Fontana is a notable form horse from this race relating to the Festival. The Paul Nicholls trained hurdler won here in the Steel Plate and Sections Handicap Hurdle (4.10pm) as a five year old two seasons ago before following it up in the County Hurdle at the Festival a few weeks later.
As with the other handicaps on the card, any Cheltenham form is a big plus come March.
Trials Day Offers Festival Clues
As for the question of whether Saturday’s card at Cheltenham can be considered a genuine trials day, the answer is a resounding ‘Yes’, especially given the addition of Djakadam in what would have otherwise looked a weak Cotswold Chase.