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Cheltenham Festival Trials Day 2020 | A Reflection

Often regarded as the perfect preparation for The Festival two months later, Trials Day is a one-day fixture held on the final Saturday of January every season.



Trials Day

Festival Trials Day is the final meeting at Cheltenham Racecourse before the big one.

Often regarded as the perfect preparation for The Festival two months later, Trials Day is a one-day fixture held on the final Saturday of January every season.

Sadly, there will not be 20,414 racegoers roaring their fancies up the hill in 2021 due to the ongoing pandemic.

However, we are still highly anticipating a superb day of National Hunt ahead before we bid farewell to Prestbury Park for just over seven weeks.

And what better way to whet the appetite than reflect on last year’s end-of-January highlight?

Review the 2020 heroes and how they went onto perform in March…

Galahad Quest landed the 2020 Trials Day opener, the JCB Triumph Trial Juvenile Hurdle, under Harry Cobden at odds of 6-1.

Having finished second at Taunton earlier in the month, the American Post gelding went one better in Gloucestershire in the Grade 2 curtain raiser.

He saw off Night Edition by a length that day, but it was to be David Pipe’s representative who would fare better in the Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle.

Both deemed more in their comfort zone in the Grade 3 as opposed to Friday’s JCB Triumph Hurdle itself, January’s second would pick up the silver medal once again over course and distance.

Beaten only by Gordon Elliot’s Aramax, he pulled miles clear of his conqueror earlier in the year, Nick Williams’ runner could only finish 14th.

In the Timeform Novices’ Handicap Chase, there would be two Festival successors who finished 1-2 in the first steeplechase of the day.

The subsequent Brown Advisory & Merriebelle Stable Plate winner, 11/2 shot Simply The Betts held off the future Northern Trust Company hero Imperial Aura.

Harry Whittington’s stable-star had to give 4lbs to the runner-up after three chase wins earlier in the season.

Kim Bailey’s 5/1 favourite, meanwhile, had ran well at the track a month before over three miles but seemed to excel over the shorter trip.

The form was also to be franked by the third placed On The Slopes, who won twice at Kempton in the aftermath following his fairly isolated eleven-length third.

In fact, four other runners in the race have won since, proving this edition to be a solid running of the contest.

In open company, the third race of the day went the way of the brave top-weighted Cepage who scored in the Paddy Power 45 Sleeps To Cheltenham Trophy Handicap Chase.

After a series of solid efforts at the track, this would be his first victory at the Home of Jumps Racing for Venetia Williams.

An 8-1 shot, he made virtually every yard despite carrying 11st 12lbs and battled gamely to hold off the Dan Skelton trained Spiritofthegames.

At the Festival, up 1lbs in the weights and seven furlongs in trip, he would finish a very creditable seventh in a field of 23 in the Ultima Handicap Chase.

And despite pulling up in the Caspian Caviar Gold Cup here on his reappearance in December, he has won at Chepstow since the turn of the New Year.

In the first renewal of the Paddy Power Cotswold Chase of the decade, a titanic battle saw 13/8 market principal Santini bravely pull clear of his 9/4 counterpart Bristol De Mai when in receipt of 2lbs from the grey.

Holding previously solid course form, including third in the Albert Bartlett as a novice hurdler before finishing second in the Festival Novices’ Chase, Nicky Henderson’s quirky charge went one better on 2020 Trials Day.

Having won in the 2018 edition on what was only his second career start, it has proved to be a fruitful occasion for the son of Milan.

On the new course last year, the pair pulled hugely clear of the rest of the field of six as they aimed to lay down their Gold Cup credentials.

And the Cotswold winner would go onto finish as close in the Festival’s feature to any winner of the race before him, beaten a neck by Al Boum Photo.

Nigel Twiston-Davies’s gelding, however, finished a fair way down the order despite his promising third in the race the year before.

Mister Whitaker, the former Northern Trust Company Novices’ winner, clearly was not in his comfort zone upped in trip and class, pulling up on the flat.

But he ran with far more credit at the Festival back in distance, finishing third behind Simply The Betts in the Brown Advisory & Merriebelle Stable Plate.

Back over timber for the fifth race of the day, the late Colin Tizzard trained Harry Senior powered home up the hill to win the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle, also known as the Classic, under Robbie Power.

At odds of 4-1, he beat Harry Fry’s well-backed King Rowland and the likeable course-and-distance winner Protektorat in what proved to be a strong renewal of the Grade 2 contest.

This would prove to be his second win in a row following his success at Chepstow the month prior.

Sadly, the Festival Trials Day winner did not go as well as anticipated in the Albert Bartlett next time out, not appearing to ever really travel sweetly enough and pulling up.

Fourth-placed on the day, House Island outran odds of 66-1 at the Festival in the same race and has tasted success over fences since.

The banker of the day for many, Paisley Park expectedly won the Cleeve Hurdle for the second campaign running as a 4/6 favourite.

King of the staying hurdlers in 2019, Emma Lavelle’s charge landed his third win over track-and-trip to see off 2018 Supreme winner, Summerville Boy.

This race would produce the Stayers’ Hurdle winner, but not the one most punters would have expected.

Lisnigar Oscar only managed third in the trial but went two better to reverse the form with the defending champion two months later in an extraordinary training performance by Rebecca Curtis.

The Oscar gelding had only managed fifth in the Albert Bartlett as a novice before a forgetful career as a chaser, but he returned to the smaller obstacles with a bang.

Probably not given much of a chance after his early exit at Warwick just two weeks before, he collected bronze in the Cleeve before being crowned the best in the division on day three of the Festival.

But he’s now got a few questions to answer on his consistency after disappointing efforts at Wetherby and Newbury since.

Meanwhile, there are signs that Paisley’s March flop were down to issues out of his control and he has put to bed any concerns this season with gallant outings at Newbury and Ascot.

The new kid on the block, Thyme Hill, now appears to be the main danger in preventing him from regaining his throne in Gloucestershire following two clashes in Berkshire – with the pair even at one-a-piece.

Coral Hurdle winner If The Cap Fits endured a tough time up the hill but has since gone onto win over fences, as has the now Sam Thomas-trained William Henry who finished at the tail of the field.

The Steel Plate And Sections Handicap Hurdle, won by Back On The Lash, did not subsequently produce a March runner back at Prestbury Park in its wake.

Three winners, two seconds and a third.

All in all, a fairly telling fixture in the National Hunt calendar ahead of the Jumps’ Olympics in March.

Will the 2021 produce a Festival winner?

All will be revealed on Saturday 30th January

Dominic Chapman is senior content writer at Low6 with a passion for horse racing. He provides a NAP and NB every day throughout the week on selected National Hunt and Flat cards in both Britain and Ireland. Additionally, he hosts the Paddock Picks Podcast with former Welsh Grand National-winning pilot, Charlie Poste - the pair interviewing and discussing current racing topics with a special guest every week.