It’s Trials Day at Cheltenham this Saturday and it gives us one last chance to see some Festival hopes in action before the big meeting itself gets under way on March 12th.
Four Grade 2 races and a Grade 3 can be boasted and on a day when racing looks competitive and certain “standout” performers have something to prove, there is definitely great value to be had in the betting ring and at home.
We have a selection in all seven races here as usual, starting with the Triumph Hurdle trial and a pick that sets the tone on the day as we believe we can get a short-priced favourite beaten with an overpriced runner.
12.40 (Triumph Hurdle Trial Juvenile Hurdle – Grade 2) – OUR POWER
It’s easy to see why Adjali is favourite in this race for Nicky Henderson, his powerful trainer carrying all before him this term but his second place in the mud last time seemed to perhaps just expose a slight stamina flaw in him and so despite the slightly better ground, getting home up the hill over 2m1f and giving away weight won’t be easy.
We don’t foresee the same problems with Alan King’s Our Power though who’s improving hand over fist over hurdles and seems to get home no problem. In receipt of weight he looks the value in this race ahead of the jolly and the overpriced Dogon.
1.15 (Class 2 Novices’ Handicap Chase) – SPIRITOFTHEGAMES
We’ll be watching with great interest what First Drift and Enola Gay can do from near the bottom of the weights in this contest as both seem to have been underestimated, though it’s chancy to back them.
Sticking with a little more class however the top one Spiritofthegames looks the most likely suspect, Dan Skelton’s 7yo having had plenty of time to recover from his disappointing run in a Grade 2 at Newbury in late November though it’s interesting that they thought he had the class for that.
Taking his debut in October as a more reliable form guide, natural progression from then until now would see him go very close off this handicap mark and we rate him our outright selection.
1.50 (Trophy Handicap Chase – Grade 3) – ACTIVIAL
This looks like a very close handicap with at least 5 or 6 of the runners within a couple of pounds of each other on adjusted weights, but at the top sits this Activial who may be able to simply outclass them on the day.
Tom George’s gelding carries 11-12 here and has had a tough enough time, running hard twice to be runner-up either side of his Graduation Chase win but that’s not to say there isn’t still more improvement to come from him which is what we expect.
As long as he gets home around the New Course he should have enough to be involved in the finish, potentially alongside Oldgrangewood and Brelan D’As.
2.25 (Cotswold Chase – Grade 2) – FRODON
This could yet make a good trial for the Gold Cup itself even though none of this line-up are particularly high up in the current betting for the blue riband event in March.
Minella Rocco still has plenty to give and could be great value for a place today, while it’s hard to split Nicky Henderson’s two runners Valtor and Terrefort but on all known form they should all find it hard to pass Paul Nicholls’ Frodon under Bryony Frost.
Having started his season by winning the Old Roan Chase at Aintree, he was a gallant runner-up to the well-handicapped Baron Alco round here in the BetVictor Gold Cup before improving again to win the Caspian Caviar Gold Cup.
He’s ready for this step up in trip and the best guess is that he’ll take another step forward and take this race in his tride, but may be feeling the effects of it all come the Festival.
3.00 (Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle – Grade 2) – JARVEYS PLATE
It’s totally understandable that the bookmakers run for cover from Nicky Henderson’s horses just as they do from Aidan O’Brien’s on the flat, and while we are by no means saying this Birchdale doesn’t hold a serious chance he is definitely very bad value and can be taken on in the ring.
The one who looks like he’s got most to give is this Jarveys Plate and even in carrying 5lbs more than his main rivals, his Listed win here last time marked him out as one with proper ability and so giving that weight away and still staying on best of all looks like being a real possibility.
3.35 (Cleeve Hurdle – Grade 2) – AUX PTITS SOINS
At a place like Cheltenham Racecourse, knowing you have an animal that can not only handle the track but who if anything loves it round here can be so advantageous in races and that’s what we can believe we can rely on when it comes to former Coral Cup winner Aux Ptits Soins.
Having rediscovered his best form, nay improving on his best form last time out over course and distance it seems we may about to witness a career best from this lad and with a 6lb pull to be had from the likes of Midnight Shadow and Black Op who are next best on our list, Dan Skelton’s 9yo looks terrific value indeed.
4.10 (Class 2 Handicap Hurdle) – FLASH THE STEEL
Harry Skelton will indeed be hoping to the flash the steel and scythe down his opposition here, something he’ll probably be favourite to do atop this horse after his handicap win at Doncaster last time out.
There’s definitely more to come from the seven-year-old and he can put the finale to bed at the main expense of Our Merlin and Maquisard with the others potentially some way behind at the weights on current form.