Cheltenham Trials Day Preview: Clues For The Festival

Cheltenham Festival Trials Day is fast approaching. With five graded races and one listed race on the card, the last meeting to be staged at the racecourse before the Cheltenham Festival promises to deliver a top-class afternoon of racing action.

Featuring the headline Grade 2 Cotswold Chase and Grade 2 Cleeve Hurdle, former champion Paisley Park could complete his preparation for his Stayers’ Hurdle challenge next month.

Cleeve Hurdle favourite, Champ, has also been switched from Fences to Hurdles and is the strong market leader for both the Stayers and the Cleeve on Saturday. 

For many UK horses, Cheltenham Festival Trials Day is the last time they’ll run competitively before the main event in March. It also plays host to a day that gives owners and trainers a chance to ensure things run smoothly in front of sell-out crowds, and punters are guaranteed to find plenty of Festival clues throughout the afternoon.

With eight races on the card, it’s time to finalise your shortlist before all roads lead to the Cheltenham Festival.

Cheltenham Festival Trials Day Race Card

12:15 – SSS Super Alloys Handicap Hurdle

Cl2 (4yo+) 2m1f – 22 runners

12:45 – JCB Triumph Trial Juvenile Hurdle (Grade 2) (Registered As The Finesse) 

Cl1 (4yo) 2m1f – 12 runners

1:20 – Timeform Novices’ Handicap Chase

Cl2 (5yo+) 2m4½f – 19 runners

1:55 – Paddy Power Cheltenham Countdown Podcast Handicap Chase (Grade 3)

Cl1 (5yo+) 2m4½f – 18 runners

2:30 – Paddy Power Cotswold Chase (Grade 2)

Cl1 (5yo+) 3m1½f – 8 runners

3:05 – Welsh Marches Stallions at Chapel Stud Cleeve Hurdle (Grade 2)

Cl1 (5yo+) 3m – 7 runners

3:40 – Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle (Registered As The Classic Novices’ Hurdle) (Grade 2)

Cl1 (4yo+) 2m4½f – 11 runners

4:15 – Alan Swinbank Mares’ Standard Open National Hunt Flat Race

Cl1 (4-6yo) 2m1f – 20 runners

Cheltenham Racecourse Runners

Headline Race on Festival Trials Day

The Grade 2 Cotswold Chase is the headline race on the card on Festival Trials Day.

Ran over a distance of three miles and one-and-a-half furlongs with 21 fences to be jumped, the Paddy Power Cotswold Chase will serve as a key test for some of the staying chases at the Festival in March.

The Grade 2 test is worth £120,000 and has been previously won by the likes of Native River, Santini and Frodon, all of which went on to run in Grade 1 races at the Cheltenham Festival. While doubling up at the Cheltenham has proved to be a challenge for several hopefuls, last year’s winner Santini placed second in the Gold Cup in 2020, while 2019 winner Frodon landed the Ryanair chase in 2020.

There’s a cracking card this year, with Chantry House expected to line up in the newly sponsored Boodles Cheltenham Gold Cup in March.

In 2022, Polly Gundry-trained Santini sets the form standard, and he’s out to enhance his Gold Cup credentials by securing back-to-back victories in the Cotswold Chase. Success in this Grade 2 test would see him become only the third dual winner of the race, and Gundry believes that the enthusiasm he displayed under Nicky Henderson’s care is still there.

In training, she described Santini to be like an “out of body experience.” A trophy on Festival Trials Day would also give Gundry the biggest win of her career.

Can Santini take another step up the chasing ladder to defend his title in Cotswold Chase and earn Gold Cup victory two months down the road?

Saturday’s card includes three other Grade 2 tests and the Grade 3 Paddy Power Cheltenham Countdown Podcast Handicap Chase, which has a field of 18.

Besides the Paddy Power Cotswold Chase, the Grade 2 Cleeve Hurdle and Grade 2 Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle are noteworthy, particularly with renowned trainer Nicky Henderson’s two exciting prospects in sight.

Balco Coastal Targets Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle

Nicky Henderson has made a habit of training winners, and Balco Coastal could be another success story for the six-time British jump racing Champion Trainer.

He’s bidding to find out whether his unbeaten hurdler Balco Coastal can land the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle in 2022 and become a contender for the Grade 1 Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle staged on Day Two of the Cheltenham Festival.

While Balco Coastal has started as the favourite in all of his competitive racecourse appearances, he is yet to race beyond two miles. Nicky Henderson commented:

“He is bred to get two and a half, and Nico (De Boinville) said he felt like two and a half.”

He’s also up against prolific winner, A Different Kind, who landed two bumpers and three novice hurdles after going under trainer Donald McCain’s care. Although the G2 Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle could prove a tough test of stamina for the gelding, he’s in good form.

The soft ground could be an issue, but the step up in trip could also deliver another jolt of improvement and set him up for a big run.

Cheltenham Festival Trials Day’s Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle is run over the new course and consists of 10 fences. This year’s winner will take home £28,475.

Horses Running Down the Home Straight at Cheltenham Festival

Champ Headlines Seven Entries for Cleeve Hurdle

Nicky Henderson-trained Champ is the favourite among the Trials Day contenders for the Welsh Marches Stallions at Chapel Stud Cleeve Hurdle race.

With no fears over the weather forecast this week, Champ will look to add to his Long Distance Hurdle success at Ascot and possibly target the Stayers’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival in March.

Last year’s Cleeve Hurdle winner Paisley Park, Coole Cody and McFabulous are among the other runners in the race on Saturday 29th January 2022.

Rebecca Curtis-trained Lisnagar Oscar is expected to run well in the Cleeve Hurdle and could prove stiff opposition for both Champ and Paisley Park. Lisnagar Oscar was a shock 50/1 win at the Festival in 2020, and if he runs well on Saturday, he could also target the 2022 Cheltenham Festival.

Paul Nicholls’ McFabulous will also step back up in trip to the three miles and bid for his fourth Grade 2 success in the Cleeve Hurdle.

It’s the last chance to witness world-class action at the Home of Jump Racing before all roads lead back to the Cheltenham Festival in March 2022, and let’s be honest, we’re already counting down the days until the four-day bonanza kicks off.

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