With just under 7 weeks to go until the 2020 Cheltenham Festival, trainers and owners are already beginning to scramble when it comes to picking out the perfect prep races for their hopes.
Cheltenham Racecourse’s Trials Day of course provides some perfect opportunities for horses to test their skills around Prestbury Park in advance of the Festival and that could prove to be crucial for some who are either untried on the rigours of this track, or who have shown themselves in the past to not handle it well.
112 horses are in at the five-day stage though by Friday that will become much fewer. Here are the highlights of the upcoming Trials Day with who to look out for.
Cheltenham Trophy Handicap Chase
Due off at 1.50, this 2½-mile Grade 3 handicap brings together various formlines from so many other similar races around Cheltenham from the past few months.
Huge Ascot gamble Jerrysback looks to go two better this time while Warthog, Spiritofthegames and Highway One O One all know their way around here but the race to keep an eye on is the one almost won by Lalor last time out.
Finishing ahead of this week’s rival Ex Patriot, the former Arkle favourite showed a real liking for this track and trip and can come on significantly from that performance.
2.25 brings us what is still seen by many as a genuine Gold Cup trial; the Grade 2 Cotswold Chase.
Outsiders such as Top Ville Ben and Ladbrokes Trophy winner De Rasher Counter will have to be considered, while Haydock specialist Bristol De Mai attempts to shrug off the reputation that he can’t do it quite as well around Cheltenham, however the form to look out for could be that of last year’s RSA Chase.
There Santini and Delta Work were close together, the former losing a shoe and the latter being checked badly in his run, so with Delta Work many times the price of his old rival he can be considered good value in the market.
Classic Novices’ Hurdle
Sponsors Ballymore put their name to many of these races, not least at the Festival itself and in this heat, we should expect to see strong performances from the likes of local horse Champagne Well, likely favourite Sporting John, Protektorat and the undervalued and overpriced House Island of the Paul Webber yard.
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For many the big race of the day, more important even than the Cotswold Chase unless it produces a genuine Gold Cup contender, is the Grade 1 Cleeve Hurdle over three miles.
At this distance the Cleeve is not only a very important race in its own right, but acts as the main trial event for the Stayers’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival and so it’s no surprise to see the winner of both races in 2019, Paisley Park, installed as the odds-on favourite for a race that goes off at 3.35.
With his preparation having been very different this year, he may well have his work cut out to fend off Harry Fry’s If The Cap Fits who has won over three miles at Aintree and over 2½ last time at Ascot in fine style.