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Cheltenham Festival Trials Day Preview


Cheltenham has always boasted one of the best grounds crews in the racing business and they deserve plenty of credit for working overtime to get conditions as right as possible for Saturday’s widely-anticipated Cheltenham Festival Trials Day. The early forecast indicates that the going should be good to soft and soft in places. One gets the feeling that the course will play softer during the first three or four races.

12:55 JCB Triumph Hurdle Trial

Grandouet achieved career-best figures in a juvenile hurdle at Ascot last weekend when sent off as a slim 4/9 favourite. Tony McCoy also guided him to a juvenile hurdle score at Newbury in late December and the pair had previously combined for a solid second place finish behind Sam Winner in the previous Triumph Hurdle prep back in November. He gives a mere seven pounds to the field and he’ll be fresh enough to handle the 2m1f. McCoy opts for Steve Gollings’ Local Hero and the four year-old bay has taken three on the bounce during his selective campaign and he was a heavy favourite at Doncaster last time out. He’s won over soft going so he could be poised to make a real statement here – and he should deliver at a price.

1:30 Timeform Novices’ Handicap Chase

This is an absolutely massive 2m5f handicap and the seventeen-strong field boasts a number of possible victors. Shakalakaboomboom jumps off the page for more than the obvious reason on the back of a pair of classy scores at Kempton and Taunton with Barry Geraghty up. He showed plenty of improvement last time out to achieve career-best figures of 128. He’ll be looking to track the early pace and keep himself in the mix. A pair of slower geldings taking the lead would set things up nicely for Nicky Henderson’s charge. In-form Pearlysteps lines up for the Henry Daly yard and he’s been in great nick since finishing second at Bangor-On-Dee in his seasonal debut when sent off at 18/1. He recovered from a mistake on the last fence to assert himself well in the final 50 yards or so in a winning effort at Hereford last time out. This eight year-old still has plenty of up-side. Bottom-weight Douglas Julian gets nearly two stone on the field and scored on his first step up off the novice chase circuit back in mid-December. He’ll need to improve heavily but just gets so much weight on the rest of the field. He could factor for a slice and flourishes on good to soft going.

2:00 Murphy Group Chase

A supremely-talented field lines up in this Grade 3 handicap as Paul Nicholls and Tony McCoy have thrown down the gauntlet with top-weight Noland offering up a fascinating subtext to this 2m5f clash. He was slogging it out at Grade 1 level back in 2008 before spending over two years on the sidelines. He emerged in a National Hunt flat race to finish second to Pepe Simo. He begins the long road back to prominence here and the handicappers seem to think he’s poised to get back to his best. Atouchbetweenacara has enjoyed Cheltenham in the past and could be set to capitalize or at least get up for a piece of he manages to finish the race. Pull ups and falling efforts have derailed a number of his past races and he’s due for a bit of luck here.

2:30 Argento Chase

Also known as the Costwold Chase, this Grade 2 3m1f110y battle boasts some top-class contenders including Punchestowns, Grand National winner Mon Mome and Time For Rupert among others. Paul Nicholls Taranis gets the top-weight here and he’ll be looking to avenge a fall in his last spin at Cheltenham which came back on New Years’ day. Time For Rupert gets some support and should go off as the favourite on the back of a pair of credible victories. Punchestowns and Nicky Henderson really have the most up-side here and he’s grown nicely during his chasing campaign this year, though he was headed in the run-in last time at Newbury.

3:05 Neptune Investment Management Novices’ Hurdle

Another Grade 2 contest for us just after three bells and a number of contenders come in off impressive winning records. Undefeated Backspin gets McCoy again for the trip and this pair has combined to score in their past two for Jonjo O’Neill. He enjoys the good to soft going and boasts plenty in reserve to press late on the way home. Paul Nicholls’ Rock On Ruby graduated off the bumper circuit to score in an introductory hurdle at Newbury. He deserves a second look with four wins in a row while Nicky Henderson’s Problema Tic looks to continue his undefeated streak. McCoy has left this one so that might tell us what we need to know.

3:35 Cleeve Hurdle

The latest iteration of the Group 2 Cleeve Hurdle has 10 contenders going 3m. Fair Along will probably go off at a slim price and he’s been laid off since October 30 when he scored in a Group 2 encounter at Wetherby against the likes of Kayf Aramis and Tidal Bay. Win on a debut against that type of company sets up well for a score here, but it’s important to remember that Philip Hobbs nine year-old hasn’t won at Cheltenham since 2008 at listed level. Oscar Dan Dan could be the spoiler here.

4:10 Stellar Football Handicap Hurdle

The final race on the card is the most wide-open of the day and it will make sense for punters to jump aboard promising five year-old Andhaar who lines up for Steve Gollings. He’s been off since mid-November and connections have obviously made the right moves as he has progressed from a 73 to a 126 in five races. That’s significant progress for a younger gelding and this Shadwell-bred could be poised to make a real statement here. He’s also looking for his third score in a row. 

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