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Festival Trials Day 2021: Race Preview

Cheltenham’s annual Festival Trials Day takes place on Saturday afternoon and there’s a star-studded cast heading to Gloucestershire



Two horses race up the Cheltenham Hill at Cheltenham Racecourse in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, England
Read our 2020 Trials Day review here

Cheltenham’s penultimate meeting before March’s main event takes place on Saturday afternoon with the 2021 renewal of Festival Trials Day.

There is a precautionary inspection set to take place on Friday morning following 15mm of rain on Wednesday evening heading into Thursday.

It would be a frustrating turn of events to have to abandon this weekend’s card after Cheltenham’s annual New Year’s Day card was beaten by the weather.

Clerk of the course, Simon Claisse, said that currently “we’re just about raceable”, but that “my levels of optimism are declining”.

But failing to prepare means you must prepare to fail, and we wouldn’t be silly enough to not at least preview the fixture after the 48-hour raceday declarations were confirmed.

Here’s your Festival Trials Day preview.

JCB Triumph Trial Juvenile Hurdle (Grade 2) | 2m 179y | 12:40pm

Just four confirmed for the opener and there will be plenty of interest around Gary Moore’s Nassalam who won by a confirmed 108 lengths in two races at Fontwell between November and December.

He finished second in the Grade 1 Finale at Chepstow next time out and he now heads to Prestbury Park bidding to get back to winning ways.

Looking to serve it up to him will be the Dr Richard Newland trained Sage Advice who made a winning debut over timber at Kempton earlier this month.

A winner on the flat in Ireland for Joseph Murphy, he quickened up nicely in Surrey under Sam Twiston-Davies three weeks ago and has had a second wind surgery since.

Cabot Cliffs and Yggdrasil complete the lineup, but both look to have their work cut out with the aforementioned market principals.

Timeform Novices’ Handicap Chase | 2m 4f 127y | 1:15pm

Still a maiden over fences, Lieutenant Rocco bids to get his first win over the larger obstacles but will have to carry top-weight in doing so.

Nick Mitchell’s gelding has a mark of 140 to contend with but did run with credit over course-and-distance in December before finishing at the tail of a strong field of three at Wincanton next time.

Umbrigado will aim to keep the chestnut winless and seemingly came on leaps and bounds himself with a cosy win at Fontwell on his second chase effort last time out.

Second season novice Hold The Note ran a blinder at the Festival 10 months ago but is still searching for that illusive win for Mick Channon.

He did finish convincingly clear of Alnadam at Kempton on Boxing Day, though, and is now 2lbs better off in the weights here to boot.

Maypole Class and High Up In The Air both arrive here in winning form and remain relatively unexposed, while Fergal O’Brien is having a blinding season and he saddles Thegallantway.

Nestor Park and Mac Tottie are the final two in the field.

Paddy Power Millionaire Trophy Handicap Chase (Grade 3) | 2m 4f 127y | 1:50pm

Winning connections of this contest last year will be aiming to replicate a similar victory with Aso, who finished second in the Ryanair Chase in 2019.

He was rated as high as 168 but is down 13lbs since and is a course-and-distance successor for Venetia Williams.

However, he will need to concede weight all round in order to achieve a first win on the track for just over two years.

Mister Whitaker is a lover of both track-and-trip and he will be happy for his return to two-and-a-half miles in Gloucestershire compared to his three-mile excursions at Wetherby on Halloween.

The Court Cave gelding won on Festival Trials Day three years ago and finished third behind Happy Diva in the Brown Advisory & Merriebelle Stable Plate last season.

Midnight Shadow was a fortunate winner of the Dipper last season and he heads the market, ahead of Nicky Henderson’s Caribbean Boy who disappointed at Ascot on his most recent run.

9-year-old Benatar picked up the bronze medal in the Marsh Novices’ Chase once upon a time and he made a pleasing return to action here in December after 23 months off the racecourse.

He is surely a player off the same mark of 142, and the Nigel Twiston-Davies representative Al Dancer has few lengths to find with him based on their Caspian Caviar Gold Cup outings.

Old Grangewood, Kauto Riko, Eden Du Houx and Clan Legend are the final quartet.

Paddy Power ’45 Sleeps To Cheltenham’ Cotswold Chase (Grade 2) | 3m 1f 56y | 2:25pm

Santini bids to defend his crown after seeing off Bristol De Mai in this contest last year, although the latter mentioned is 2lbs better off on this occasion.

Nicky Henderson’s son of Milan went onto finish second in the Gold Cup seven weeks later but perhaps has a point to prove after failing to see off a small field at Aintree on his seasonal debut.

His grey counterpart, on the other hand, won a third Betfair Chase at his happy hunting ground of Haydock in November, but is winless at Prestbury Park in six attempts.

2018 Gold Cup hero Native River returns to the scene of his greatest triumph for Colin Tizzard and he made a pleasing return to action in Merseyside last time, not helped by the lack of fences in the home straight.

Now aged 11, he is a superb jumper and is sure to appreciate conditions, likely relishing the opportunity of a return to this course.

Lake View Lad saw off two of these rivals in December and finished third in the Ultima on his only previous Cheltenham experience, the 2020 edition of which was won by David Bridgewater’s The Conditional.

Ryanair second Saint Calvados gets a first crack at this trip after his King George fourth, while Paul Nicholls has opted to give Yala Enki a quick seven-day turnaround after his Portman Cup win at Taunton on Saturday.

Festival favourite and the widely adored Yorkhill landed at odds of 66-1 at Newcastle for new trainer Sandy Thompson – just his second win since March 2017, and he bids for an unlikely repeat of that form here.

Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle (Grade 2) | 2m 4f 56y | 3:00pm

A small but select field of five is headed by the unbeaten Bear Ghylls who bids for a fifth successive victory on the spin.

Standing in his way is Chris Gordon’s Animal Invictus who seeks a fourth win on the bounce of his own and is the trusty hands of Richard Johnson.

Wilde About Oscar pulled up in the Grade 1 Challow at Newbury before the turn of the year but drops back in class, while Optimise Prime is up in grade following an unbeaten start to life over timber.

At the rear of the field on his appearance here at three-miles last time, Took The Lot has a bit of a point to prove back down in trip.

Paddy Power Cleeve Hurdle (Grade 2) | 2m 7f 213y | 3:35pm

Paisley Park aims for a hat-trick in this race after respective wins in 2019 and 2020.

The Stayers’ Hurdle king of two seasons ago failed to fire in March last year but has bounced back with two solid performances this campaign – including his victory in the Long Walk at Ascot.

A battle with rival Thyme Hill will be put on hold until day three of the Festival, with Olly Murphy’s Itchy Feet providing the market threat to Emma Lavelle’s stable-star.

The Scilly Isles winner of 11 months ago reverts back to the smaller obstacles for the first time since October 2019 and finished third in that year’s Supreme.

Main Fact recorded a remarkable nine wins in a row between January and November but he was well put in his place in Grade 1 company on his most recent outing.

Former Albert Bartlett successor Unowhatimeanharry was one of the last home in handicap company here previously and while the 13-year-old owes connections nothing, he does have a bit to find to be competitive.

David Pipe’s Ramses De Teillee and Noel Kelly’s Decor Irlandais are the outsiders of the contest.

SSS Super Alloys Handicap Hurdle | 2m 179y | 4:10pm

A very high-quality renewal of the curtain closer before the Home of Jumps Racing takes a break until its feature event in seven weeks.

Martin Keighley’s Witness Protection bolted up at Stratford in November and has since won at Chepstow, partnering regular rider James Best once again here.

Time Flies By won his bumper on debut here but has failed to enter the winner’s enclosure since and now makes just his second appearance in handicap company.

Grade 2 novice winner Highway One O Two returns to life as a hurdler after a couple of chase efforts didn’t go to plan, carrying 1lbs less than the top-weighted Monsieur Lecoq.

David Pipe’s Martinhal had his Exeter form franked and could expose a mark of 123, but fellow northern raider Chti Balko needs to start showing some consistency for Donald McCain Jnr.

Stormy Flight, Song Of The Hunter, Nordic Combined and Sir Valentine also aim to win the final race at Cheltenham before the Festival.

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.