Trials Day is the last meeting at Cheltenham before the Festival gets underway in March, and offers connections a last chance to get some course practice into their string before their bigger targets. This season’s Trials Day looks another fantastic card, and we look set to run on Good to Soft ground. Be sure to follow me on Twitter @JakePriceTips for live updates from the racecourse.
12:40 – Triumph Trial Juvenile Hurdle (Grade 2) – 2m
Adjali will take all the beating in this opening two mile Juvenile Hurdle, having already achieved a rating of 147. This Nicky Henderson charge finished second in the Grade 1 Finale Juvenile Hurdle at Chepstow on Welsh National Day, only going down a Neck to Paul Nicholls’ Quel Destin (148). Prior to this run Adjali made a successful start for Simon Munir & Isaac Souede at Market Rasen, beating King D’argent by 13 lengths under Daryl Jacob. His French form for Guillaume Macaire is also top class, having finished third in a Listed 3yo Hurdle at Auteuil in May, behind subsequent Grade 1 winner and French Champion Juvenile Hurdler Beaumec De Houelle. Adjali does have a 5lbs penalty to give away, but Nicky Henderson will be expecting to see another ‘1’ next to his name with no rival rated within 12lbs of him. Elsewhere in the field, Our Power looks held on a form line through Fanfan Du Seuil having finished second to this rival at Exeter. Nelson River subsequently beat this rival here at Cheltenham’s International meeting in December, although that race hasn’t worked out very strongly. Protektorat is a very interesting runner who also ran in that Class 2 ‘Triumph Trial’, but he unseated very early on at the fourth Hurdle. This will only be his second run for the Dan Skelton stable, and I’d have to fancy him to finish ahead of Nelson River today considering he finished second in a Listed 3yo Hurdle at Auteuil in September for Guy Cherel. Another interesting French recruit in the field is Paul Nicholl’s Dogon, who won a Chase on his last start in France. He has since joined Ditcheat for Middleham Park Racing and looks an interesting newcomer having placed four times in four starts over Hurdles. Considering Paul’s record in the Fred Winter, he could be one for that race in March if showing ability here.
Adjali to Win @ 13/8
13:15 – Novices’ Handicap Chase (Class 2) – 2m4½f
With the omission of Glen Forsa in this Novices’ Handicap Chase, the race has been blown wide open with Kildisart installed as the favourite. He looks to have a solid chance here having beaten both Azzerti and Onefortheroadtom at Ascot in November when second to Wenyerreadyfreddie. He has since beaten Activial in a very tight finish at the same track, who runs in the Handicap Chase following this race. Spiritofthegames won a Listed Novices’ Chase at Chepstow on his debut over fences but has since finished a well beaten last at Newbury behind La Bague Au Roi and will likely struggle off top weight in this contest. The horse I like here is Highway One O One, who won on his debut over fences at Newton Abbot in September and has had four runs since – two of which in Graded events. After beating Flying Tiger on debut, this Chris Gordon charge finished second to Dynamite Dollars at Market Rasen when trying to give that rival 6lbs. His next start came up at Carlisle in November when contesting a Intermediate Chase, beating Paul Nicholls’ Dolos by three-quarters-of-a-length. He showed a tenacious attitude that day to stay on extremely well over the two-mile trip, which leads me to think he will be suited to stepping up to two-and-a-half miles here. His next two starts both came behind Dynamite Dollars in the Grade 1 Henry VIII and Grade 2 Wayward Lad Novices’ Chase, allowing for his mark to drop down a few lbs to 143. There’s no doubt that it will take a brilliant effort for him to win from 11-9 under Tom Cannon, but I fancy him to run well being unexposed over the trip. Dentley De Mee is another interesting horse at the other end of the Handicap, having his fourth start over fences today. This Nick Williams charge finished behind Springtown Lake on his debut at Sandown in November before finishing second to Vivas at Doncaster. His last start came at Cheltenham in the Grade 2 Novices’ Chase in December when well beaten by Drovers Lane, but could go well here off 129 with a further 7lbs taken off by Chester Williams.
Highway One O One Each/Way @ 8/1
13:50 – Handicap Chase (Grade 3) – 2m4½f
This two-mile-four-and-a-half-furlong Handicap Chase was won by Frodon on this card last season, who put in a fantastic front running performance under Bryony Frost to win easily. Janika is an interesting runner for Nicky Henderson and Daryl Jacob, having finished second to Hell’s Kitchen on his debut at Ascot last month. This six-year-old has had five starts over fences (four in France) but could struggle to win this off 150, carrying a huge 11-11. Siruh Du Lac won nicely when I saw him at Exeter at the beginning of December and is the type of horse you want to back here as he will be ridden prominently under Lizzie Kelly (who claims 3lbs). He has a solid chance but the step up in grade is a big one here. Ballyhill looks to have a fantastic chance, having won the two-mile-four-and-a-half-furlong Handicap Chase on New Year’s Day at Cheltenham in 2018 off 133. He has since put in a few shockers including in this race last season but bounced back to form at Aintree in December when beating Caltex off 134. This Nigel Twiston-Davies charge was last seen in that aforementioned New Year’s Day Handicap when four-and-three-quarter-lengths third behind Aso, who won off 158 in impressive style and is now rated 163 for Venetia Williams. The second that day Happy Diva has also boosted the form since, finishing third behind the runaway Ascot winner Cyrname before winning a Listed Mares Chase at Huntingdon on Friday. With the form looking rock solid, the only worry you have about Ballyhill is that he has never won off a mark higher than 134. Nigel Twiston-Davies has given him every chance here however by jocking up Jordan Nailor, who claims 7lbs – so he is effectively running off 137 here. Brelan D’As is another horse who interests me having got off the mark over fences last time out when beating Whatswrongwithyou and Go Long at Haydock – with both rivals winning since. His second behind Kapcorse over two-mile-six-furlongs at Newbury on his penultimate start shows that he will stay this intermediate trip fine, and also shows he can be competitive in Handicap company. Barry Geraghty rides this second season Novice, and from a mark of 132, should also run well.
Ballyhill Each/Way @ 7/1, Brelan D’As Each/Way @ 8/1
14:25 – Cotswold Chase (Grade 2) – 3m1f
Frodon is the favourite for this Grade 2 Cotswold Chase having recorded two fantastic wins in competitive Graded handicaps during the Autumn. This Paul Nicholls charge won the Grade 2 Old Roan at Aintree in October, before finishing second to Baron Alco off 161 in the BetVictor Gold Cup here in November. Frodon returned to his beloved Cheltenham in December for the Grade 3 Caspian Caviar Gold Cup, where he put in a fantastic performance to win off 164 in a great weight-carrying performance. Bryony Frost retains her fantastic partnership with this seven-year-old today, but there are huge question marks over stepping up to 3m1½f for the first time in his career. All of Frodon’s best form has come over two-and-a-half-miles, including when winning the 2m5f Handicap Chase on this card last year. His last run over three-miles came in February 2017 – and although he is a different horse now – his stamina would be a big worry. One horse who is guaranteed to stay the trip is Colin Tizzard’s Elegant Escape. This seven-year-old won on his seasonal reappearance at Sandown in November, when winning the Listed Intermediate Chase which saw Terrefort return lame. He then went to Newbury in December to contest the Ladbrokes Trophy, finishing second behind stablemate Sizing Tennessee, but well clear of the rest including Dingo Dollar – who is favourite for the Listed Sky Bet Handicap Chase at Doncaster on Saturday. Elegant Escape put in his best performance to date however in the Grade 3 Welsh National at Chepstow in December, beating Ramses De Teillee in a dour staying performance. That race is ran over a trip of 3m5½f, so there definitely won’t be any worries about him staying in the Cotswold Chase. The last run this son of Dubai Destination had at Cheltenham was in the Grade 1 RSA Novices’ Chase last season, where he finished third to Presenting Percy and Monalee, which is top-class form. Terrefort did beat Elegant Escape at Aintree in their three-mile Grade 1 Novices’ Chase, however you would have to be the forgiving type to back him today having not been seen for 76 days since that aforementioned fourth at Sandown. Connections will hope he can return to his best here however and is Nicky Henderson’s first string based on jockey bookings. Valtor is also going to run for the same connections, having pulled out of the Peter Marsh Chase at Haydock last week. This French recruit has only had one start for Seven Barrows when winning a Listed Handicap Chase at Ascot last month but is up against it here with the form not working out. Despite his interesting profile, you’d have to feel there are better horses in the field than this ten-year-old. Minella Rocco is an interesting entry, but it would be very hard to back him here having been off the track for 356 days since his fall in the Irish Gold Cup. Another worry is that Richie McLernon has been booked to ride for Jonjo O’Neill despite Barry Geraghty being at Cheltenham, which suggests he will need the run. Allysson Monterg would have to improve at least 20lbs to be competitive here.
Elegant Escape to Win @ 11/4
15:00 – Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle (Grade 2) – 2m4f
The Classic Novices’ Hurdle usually produces some smart horses, and last season was no exception with the race being won by RSA favourite Santini. Nicky Henderson will hope to make it back to back wins with the short-priced favourite Birchdale. This JP McManus owned four-year-old won on his stable debut at Warwick last month in impressive style, finishing clear of stablemate Clarendon Street who has since boosted the form himself. Birchdale was due to run in the Grade 2 Leamington Novices’ Hurdle at Warwick a few weeks ago but was pulled out with a vet’s certificate. Having been given more time to be 100% right, he is sure to make a bold bid in this – but it’s difficult to have too much confidence in him up in Grade on only his second start under rules. Jarveys Plate looks a solid horse to take him on with, having improved with each run this season. Trained by Fergal O’Brien, this six-year-old finished third on his Hurdles debut at Hereford in November, before running behind subsequent Grade 1 winner Elixir De Nutz in a Novice event here at Cheltenham’s International meeting. Returning to Cheltenham on New Year’s Day, Jarveys Plate made light work of a Listed Ballymore trial when beating Nicky Henderson’s I Can’t Explain – who had previously looked impressive on his debut. Achieving a rating of 143 for his efforts to date fairly reflects his chances back at Cheltenham for the third time, and with solid form in the book, I’d chance him being able to give the weight away here. Brewin’Upastorm is on my Horses to Follow 2018/19 list having looked very good in bumpers last season, and ran well last time we saw him in the Grade 1 Challow Hurdle at Newbury when he was fourth behind Champ. Olly Murphy’s charge looks to have a great chance here on the back of that form, however there are slight concerns as he has never ran at Cheltenham before and would probably prefer softer ground.
Jarveys Plate @ 11/4
15:35 – Cleeve Hurdle (Grade 2) – 3m
The Cleeve Hurdle looks a proper trial for the Stayers here in March, with a very competitive field of 12 heading to post. Top of the market is Black Op – who was one of my horses to follow over fences this season. Things didn’t really work out for him jumping the larger obstacles however, so connections have decided to leave Chasing to next year and go back to hurdles in the meantime. He has an obvious chance with his Novice Hurdle form such as second to Samcro in the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle at the Festival last season, but he has always made jumping errors – including at the last when beaten by Santini in the Classic Novices’ Hurdle on this card last season. Mistakes will be costly in this hot contest, and he also has to prove he stays the three-mile trip. This Tom George charge isn’t of interest for me from a betting prospective back over hurdles today, but it will be fascinating to see how he gets on. Elsewhere Paisley Park will aim to win his fourth race on the bounce here, having won the Grade 1 Long Walk Hurdle at Ascot when he was last seen in December. Emma Lavelle’s seven-year-old has shown a lot of improvement this campaign, but a slight concern that I have with him is that he is often seen off the bridle a long way from the finish – especially at Haydock when he got up in the final few strides. He clearly is a dour stayer, but one horse who I think can really serve it up to him turning for home is Midnight Shadow. This Sue Smith charge won the Relkeel Hurdle here at Cheltenham on New Year’s Day in impressive style, travelling really strongly on the bridle before being asked to win his race after the last by Danny Cook. Although this six-year-old will have to step up in trip and prove he stays the full three miles, the reigning Scottish Champion Hurdler clearly possesses the speed to get Paisley Park under pressure. Good two-milers stepping up to three-miles is an angle that I like to take in these Stayers races, with the likes of Faugheen and Identity Thief springing to mind in the last 12 months. There is obviously doubts about Midnight Shadow’s stamina, however with the way he beat Wholestone last time you’d have to say he has a great chance. If Aidan Coleman is rowing away on Paisley Park turning for home whilst Midnight Shadow is still on the bridle, we will be set for a fantastic finish. Elsewhere in the field Aux Ptits Soins is a likeable horse having won the Handicap Hurdle on New Year’s Day and likes Cheltenham having won the Coral Cup on his UK debut for Paul Nicholls in 2015. He will need to step up again here however and has had plenty of injuries in the past. Wholestone isn’t a horse who I feel fully stays three miles, Sam Spinner has gone off the boil, but Unowhatimeanharry does look interesting at a bigger price having fallen early in the Long Walk at Ascot last month. He had previously won the Long Distance Hurdle at Newbury, and won this event in 2017 when he went off the 10/11 favourite. He is getting on in age now, but connections obviously still feel he is up to winning these types of staying races which he has made his own in previous years.
Midnight Shadow @ 11/2, Unowhatimeanharry Each/Way @ 12/1
16:10 – Handicap Hurdle (Class 2) – 2m
This looks a very competitive Handicap to round off the day, and it’s not one that I have much of an opinion on. I thought Equus Amadeus won well last time at Doncaster and that form has been franked since. Champagne City is a horse I like, and ran well last time out behind Al Dancer. Benny’s Bridge could be absolutely thrown in here off a mark of 120.
Good luck! – Jake Price