Cheltenham was buzzing on Saturday, the atmosphere at times on Trials Day rivalling the Festival itself as the seven winners crossed the line but the performance of the day is not something everyone can agree on with two fantastic winners of the main Grade Two events setting up many a debate.
Frodon on Course for the Gold Cup
The main race of the afternoon was the Grade 2 Cotswold Chase, traditionally a trial for the Gold Cup in March although the consensus among trainers in recent times has been that this race can take plenty of out of horses, rendering them less than 100% for the big one.
Saturday’s winner however, Frodon, has had a wonderful year and trainer Paul Nicholls is keen to get him to the Blue Riband event on March 15th to try his luck.
Having already won two high profile races and been beaten only by a well-handicapped Baron Alco, Frodon was sent off the 9/4 second favourite and was sent to the front early by jockey Bryony Frost.
The pair ran the legs off everything but favourite and Welsh National winner Elegant Escape (2/1), jumping boldly the whole way, and while a three-length lead at the last was whittled down to three parts of a length by the line this was a staying performance of some quality, leading to quotes of just 14/1 for the Gold Cup.
Paisley Now Top Stayers’ Candidate
Emma Lavelle’s Paisley Park, unbeaten this season having won at Aintree, Haydock and Ascot, was sent off the 100/30 favourite for the Cleeve Hurdle and put in a startling display to rout his 11 rivals under Aidan Coleman.
Having only reached the lead at the final flight of hurdles, the seven-year-old gelding was pushed clear and stayed on tremendously to score by an impressive 12 lengths with West Approach back in second.
Paisley Park is now the top staying hurdler in the country and has taken control of the Stayers’ Hurdle market for the Festival as a general 9/4 and 5/2 favourite for the Grade 1 contest.
Protektorat One to Watch
Note-takers may have gained little from the rest of the afternoon in truth; Nicky Henderson’s Birchdale having been well fancied for the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle but was left alone after favourite Brewin’Upastorm fell at the last when half a length to the good.
Other fancied runners such as Flash The Steel, Janika and Adjali managed only placed efforts but many shrewdies have the name of Protektorat scribbled down with a view to seeing major improvement at the Festival in six weeks time.
Sent off a 12/1 shot in the opening Triumph Trial Juvenile Hurdle, Dan Skelton’s runner was in this contest and looking strong before weakening between the final two hurdles, eventually finishing 22 lengths back in fifth.
Given that he’s a French import who’d fallen at the fourth on his only other start he was simply lacking match fitness and is bound to show a ton of improvement should he go perhaps for the Fred Winter with a reasonable mark as opposed to the Triumph Hurdle on level weights.