It’s Festival Trials Day on Saturday and we have a fantastic eight-race card on offer, despite some smaller than ideal fields.
There are plenty of very real clues on offer for the Festival in March, and we have a firm selection in each race.
12.15 (Handicap Hurdle – Class 2) – CORMIER
We should have a lively betting heat to kick off with over two miles and a furlong, with a handful of runners in with chances.
Hydroplane has form figures of 2113P1 over the past ten months and could still be significantly improving, while conditions could be just right for a big run from Lively Citizen who is the likely market leader.
There is great value however in Brian Ellison’s Cormier near the top of the weights. Although disappointing last time, that was over on the Old Course and he has been slowly improving all the time.
Despite that, he’s actually down 3lbs in the weights since a good run at Ffos Las in October where he showed the kind of speed he might need on this surface and rates a small bet.
12.45 (Triumph Trial Juvenile Hurdle – Grade 2) – FOREVER WILLIAM
Having won on his only start to date, Pied Piper is the rightful favourite for this Triumph Hurdle trial. The gelding beat 19 runners at Punchestown, is trained by Gordon Elliott and is ridden by Davy Russell so he has plenty of ticks in plenty of boxes.
That said, Pied Piper’s win was on pretty soft ground and things will be very different in this event. Iceo is the horse we think many will back against him, but it could just be that Forever William has what it takes at a big price.
Alan King’s runner was a good winner at Newbury on his hurdling debut in December, and while he improved a little on his second run he didn’t do so by as much as would have been anticipated.
His run in third was on softer than ideal ground however and it was at Grade 1 level, making it impressive overall. Forever William is highly regarded, has potentially superior speed and is great value in the market.
1.20 (Novices’ Handicap Chase – Class 2) – OSCAR ELITE
A tough race, with several horses hard to judge owing to their likely different rates of improvement as novices.
Imperial Alcazar has been runner-up twice over fences but can improve plenty on this ground, while When You’re Ready was a beaten favourite last time out on soft and will also appreciate underfoot conditions.
Your Darling showed good speed on chase debut on better ground too, but Oscar Elite is the one we reckon may improve past this field at the weights.
Colin Tizzard’s seven-year-old might have gone close to winning here in his first chase but for falling, while his run at Grade 2 level last time was very solid despite the horse having bled. Fully fit now, we should see him reach a new level under Brendan Powell.
1.55 (Handicap Chase – Grade 3) – MAGIC SAINT
Another tough race to call, one in which Farinet should command plenty of respect as well as the inevitably associated betting cash.
Paul Nicholls’ Magic Saint however looks more interesting. Having tumbled from a rating of 159 to 147 he has regressed overall. However, he’s only eight and is far from done yet.
In fact, he has steadily improved over his past three runs with the level he is likely to reach now in reality likely about to exceed his handicap mark.
2.30 (Cotswold Chase – Grade 2) – SIMPLY THE BETTS
An important Gold Cup trial. Nicky Henderson’s Chantry House may go off at odds-on for this and he is, up to now, correctly labelled as the class horse in the race.
He pulled up however in the King George, is rated only 3lbs superior to Simply The Betts and has to give his main rival 4lbs.
For his part, Simply The Betts has done very well around Cheltenham in the past and is reaching the sort of level required in a race of this nature. He is the value ahead of the jolly and Aye Right.
3.05 (Cleeve Hurdle – Grade 2) – McFABULOUS
Another major trial (Stayers’ Hurdle), another JP McManus/Nicky Henderson favourite. This time, Champ is the runner in question and he could be long odds-on by go-time.
A good former chaser, Champ won the Long Walk Hurdle over this three-mile trip, beating today’s main rival and former Stayers’ Hurdle winner Paisley Park in the process. Both horses are ten now though and while they may keep up to that level, they may not progress.
Step in McFabulous. Always highly regarded, Paul Nicholls’ runner won the Relkeel and reached a mark of 158, five less than today’s favourite. He is better than that, he needed the run last time and his trainer is adamant three miles is his trip so we should see a career high now.
3.40 (Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle – Grade 2) – HILLCREST
Still known to many as the Classic Novices’ Hurdle, this Grade 2 race is a fine one but the quality this time round isn’t the best. With that, it may simply be pertinent to stick with favourite Hillcrest who has achieved more than the others so far.
True, Henry Daly’s runner carries more weight than his rivals but he has done more than enough to warrant it and he should be able to confirm his superiority over this field with a clean round of hurdling.
4.15 (Mares’ Standard Open National Hunt Flat Race – Listed Race) – NELL’S BELLS
The excellent Brian Hughes is booked for five rides on the card, but he may have to wait for the lucky last to grab a win.
He rides Donald McCain’s Nell’s Bells in the closing bumper race, a six-year-old mare who absolutely routed her field at Carlisle in December. From that we can’t really tell where her ceiling is, which is undoubtedly a good thing and we think this stiff competition will bring the best out of her.