Cheltenham Racecourse stages Festival Trials Day this Saturday, January 26, with the fantastic seven-race programme offering racegoers the final opportunity to attend the Home of Jump Racing ahead of The Festival™ presented by Bulmers (Tuesday, March 12 to Friday, March 15).
The feature contest on Festival Trials Day is the £100,000 G2 BetBright Trial Cotswold Chase (2.25pm, 3m 1f 56y), a leading trial for the G1 Bulmers Cheltenham Gold Cup and entries have been reopened until 11.00am tomorrow.
Staying hurdlers get their chance to shine in the £60,000 G2 galliardhomes.com Cleeve Hurdle (3.35pm, 2m 7f 213y). Of the 14 entries for the 2019 renewal, 12 also hold entries in the £325,000 G1 Sun Racing Stayers’ Hurdle on St Patrick’s Thursday, March 14, at The Festival™ presented by Bulmers.
Lil Rockerfeller (Neil King) went close to landing the 2017 Sun Racing Stayers’ Hurdle, going down by three quarters of a length to Nichols Canyon.
Although winning his first three starts over fences this season, including at The Showcase in October, connections have decided to revert to hurdling following the eight-year-old unseating his rider at The International and finishing third of four at Ascot in the G2 Noel Novices’ Chase, both in December.
Wiltshire-based Neil King reported today: “Lil Rockerfeller is in good order and thegalliardhomes.com Cleeve Hurdle remains the plan.
“He did well over fences, but he has to keep going up in grade and it was just a question of whether his jumping would stand up to that test.
“The ultimate aim now is the Sun Racing Stayers’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival.
“We will see what happens with the Cleeve on Saturday. He could then go for the National Spirit Hurdle (Fontwell, February 24) before The Festival.”
The likely opposition to Lil Rockerfeller on Saturday includes exciting young contenders in Emma Lavelle’ stable star Paisley Park, successful in the G1 Long Walk Hurdle at Ascot in December, and the progressive Sue Smith-trained Midnight Shadow, who impressed many when landing the G2 Dornan Engineering Relkeel Hurdle over an extended two and a half miles at Cheltenham on New Year’s Day and is stepping up in trip.
Entries for the galliardhomes.com Cleeve Hurdle also include the winners from the past two years – 2018 hero Agrapart (Nick Williams) and Unowhatimeanharry (Harry Fry), who took the honours in 2017.
Sam Spinner (Jedd O’Keeffe), won the G1 Long Walk Hurdle in 2017, but has been disappointing in two runs so far this season.
Cheltenham regular Wholestone (Nigel Twistion-Davies) finished runner-up to Agrapart in 2018 before going on to take third in the Sun Racing Stayers’ Hurdle. He came home second to Midnight Shadow on his most recent start.
Black Op (Tom George) is another contender who could go back to hurdles having been running over fences, while 2015 Coral Cup winner Aux Ptits Soins (Dan Skelton) was impressive when landing a handicap hurdle over the course and distance on New Year’s Day.
Festival Trials Day also features Graded novice hurdle action, including the £32,000 Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle (3.00pm, 2m 4f 56y, 14 entries).
Heading the 14 entries is Champ (Nicky Henderson), winner of the G1 Challow Novices’ Hurdle at Newbury on December 29.
The seven-year-old, owned by J P McManus, is unbeaten in four starts over hurdles this season and heads the market for the G1 Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle at The Festival™ presented by Bulmers (Ladies Day, Wednesday, March 13).
Nicky Henderson reported: “Champ came out of the Challow Novices’ Hurdle in good form.
“It was another good performance at Newbury and Festival Trials Day at Cheltenham is something that I am thinking about for him.
“He did a piece of work last week and we were very happy with him.
“We are looking to go down the G1 Ballymore Hurdle route with Champ.”
Among the potential opposition to Champ in Saturday’s Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle are Emitom (Warren Greatrex) and Buster Valentine (Ruth Jefferson), both unbeaten over hurdles so far, plus Jarveys Plate (Fergal O’Brien), who landed the Listed Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle impressively by 13 lengths at Cheltenham on New Year’s Day.
Nicky Henderson has also made an entry for Birchdale, an impressive winner on his hurdling debut at Warwick in December.
The action gets underway on Festival Trials Day with the £32,000 G2 JCB Triumph Hurdle Trial (12.40pm, 2m 179y, 16 entries). Nicky Henderson could be represented in this contest by Adjali, runner-up in the G1 Finale Juvenile Hurdle at Chepstow in December.
Leading Irish handler Gordon Elliott has made entries for Chief Justice, owned by Cheveley Park Stud and runner-up in G2 company at Leopardstown on December 26. and maiden hurdle winner Surin.
There are three entries from another Irish handler, Joseph O’Brien – Band Of Outlaws, Fakir d’Oudairies and Fine Brunello.
Two interesting contenders from smaller yards are Nelson River (Tony Carroll), winner of the JCB Triumph Trial Juvenile Hurdle at Cheltenham on December 15 and fillyFabianski (Rebecca Menzies), who has won both her starts at Catterick and Wetherby.
Handicap action on Festival Trials Day is headed by the £75,000 Spectra Cyber Solutions Trophy Handicap Chase (1.50pm, 2m 4f, 127y, 20 entries) and also includes the £27,500 Timeform Novices’ Handicap Chase (1.15pm, 2m 179y, 26 entries) and the concluding £27,500 Steel Plate & Sections Handicap Hurdle (4.10pm, 2m 179y, 23 entries).
The going at Cheltenham is currently Good, Good to Soft in places.
An unsettled week, with some rain, is forecast.
Scott Mills provides after-racing entertainment
DJ Scott Mills from BBC Radio 1 will be taking to the decks in The Centaur from 4.30pm to 6.00pm for the Festival Trials Day after-party.
Club and Tattersalls ticket holders will be able groove into the evening following the last race.
Festival Trials Day
Saturday, January 26, 2019
Time Race Distance Prize Money
12.40 JCB Triumph Hurdle Trial (Grade 2) 2m 179y £32,000
1.15 Timeform Novices’ Handicap Chase 2m 4f 127y £27,500
1.50 Spectra Cyber Security Solutions Handicap Chase (Grade 3) 2m 4f 127y £75,000
2.25 BetBright Trial Cotswold Chase (Grade 2) 3m 1f 56y £100,000
3.00 Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle (Grade 2) 2m 4f 56y £32,000
3.35 galliardhomes.com Cleeve Hurdle (Grade 2) 2m 7f 213y £60,000
4.10 Steel Plate & Sections Handicap Hurdle 2m 179y £27,500
Total prize money £354,000