Cheltenham Trials Day Review (27th Jan)

Cheltenham Trials Day Review:

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Jockeys during the minute silence for Richard Woollacott, 10 minutes before the Cleeve Hurdle. (photo Racing Post)

This year’s festival trials day was doubly mournful as we remembered the great Many Clouds but also 40-year old trainer Richard Woollacott who sadly lost his life last Monday. A minute silence was held for the Devon-based trainer on course and, apart from a group of intoxicated and completely disrespectful morons chanting during the silence, a real sense of togetherness was portrayed by other racegoers and it was great that the BHA allowed Richard’s wife Kayley to inherit the licence to train and saddle Beer Goggles in the Cleeve Hurdle where he ran a solid race from the front before fading into a fifth-placed finish.

We began the day with the JCB Triumph Hurdle trial and although APPLES SHAKIRA was made to work a little harder than her previous two successes over this course and distance she got the job done comfortably. She came under slight pressure turning for home but responded to Barry Geraghty’s urgings nicely and kicked clear in good style. Another strong statement laid down by the JP McManus filly ahead of the main event. She’s already looking a strong bet for that.

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Apple’s Shakira remains unbeaten ahead of the Triumph Hurdle (photo The Sun)

The Novice Handicap was next up and it provided a good battle between Mister Whitaker and Theatre Territory with the former staying on well to win after having travelled smoothly into the race. The latter again finishes second over track and trip but there were slightly disappointing efforts from the principals especially Ballyandy who, after jumping slowly to begin, was never travelling and was eventually pulled up. He still has entries in the JLT and RSA but I wouldn’t be at all surprised if they reverted the seven-year old back over hurdles. Sizing Tennessee ran his race but he would’ve had to put in his best performance to concede that much weight to younger rivals but it’s good to see him jumping with much more fluency after his first couple of chase outings where he failed to complete.

For me the performance of the day involved that lady again, Bryony Frost, aboard the improving six-year old FRODON. He jumped beautifully the whole way round on the inside rail and was given a nice toe-in to the race by Bryony who can do no wrong at present – 17 lengths the gap between the Paul Nicholls-trained gelding and the challengers. He may have scuppered his handicap mark for the festival with that romp and his most likely target now will be the Ryanair chase – a tough ask but he’s still improving and although versatile on the ground I feel any soft in the going description will enhance his case. Another to take out the race is Nicky Henderson’s O O Seven who despite beaten 20 lengths wouldn’t have enjoyed the ground going heavy and better spring ground will see him in his best light be it at the festival or Aintree in one of the middle-distance handicaps.

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Bryony Frost jumps the last aboard Frodon on their way to an impressive 17-length victory on Saturday. (photo Racing Post)

I thought the lay of the day was Bristol De Mai (god I sound like Lily Allen rhyming like that!) in the Cotswold Chase. Despite the ground turning heavy he just doesn’t seem to take a liking to Cheltenham’s undulations and I was proved right and he’s definitely worth opposing in the Gold Cup for me. My bet of the day was Harry Fry’s American as his run in the Ladbroke’s trophy was worth putting a line through – he ran a fine race in second but from 3 out my thought process was Definitely Red stays all day and if he’s within a couple of lengths turning for home he’d be the most likely winner and that was the case in the end. He jumped superbly for Danny Cook and connections are now contemplating a crack at the Gold Cup before having another stab at the Grand national which would be some ask. All being well with the horse he’s definitely worth a go at both.

Agrapart was so game in landing the Cleeve Hurdle as Wholestone came to challenge cantering and even at the last looked the likely winner but the aforementioned kept pulling out more on the run-in under a strong drive from Lizzie Kelly, another women who performs so well in these big races, to win going away in the end by three lengths. The winner reversed the placings of their previous meeting in the Relkeel Hurdle on New Years Day but I very much doubt we’ll see the seven-year old at this year’s festival unless the ground miraculously remains heavy which is highly unlikely. Wholestone has decent form on good ground and loves Prestbury Park so could be an outside bet for the Stayers’ but may only be capable of filling one of the places. Finian’s Oscar was very disappointing having been pulled up in between the last two flights and looks to have lost his way a little bit in recent starts.

SANTINI came with a late run to collar Black Op close home to make it 2/2 under rules for Nicky Henderson. The pair dominated the Ballymore Classic Novices’ Hurdle and both have claims for the festival but will find it tough to beat the very smart Samcro. I think the winner would be best off skipping the Ballymore for a go at the Albert Bartlett over a longer trip which looks as though it’ll suit Nicky Henderson’s inmate with the way in which he’s won his two starts for the champion trainer. One from the race who looks as though a step up in trip will suit is Slate House who has shown a couple of times recently that this trip is too short and Saturday’s race showed that again.

Top Performer: FRODON was foot perfect over the 17 fences in which he tackled. The course form was there and there was always the suggestion that he was a graded horse running in a handicap. The handicapper will most likely ruin his chances of winning one of the festival handicaps but he’ll be well worth a crack at the Ryanair being versatile on ground and course form in the bag.

Disappointment: The Colin Tizzard-trained FINIAN’S OSCAR was very underwhelming in the Cleeve Hurdle. Shaken up before 3 out and although he still held a slight chance turning in he completely blew up and was pulled up before the last. In the aftermath of the race connections have stated that he’ll undergo a wind op before going chasing again so he won’t be lining up in the Stayers’ Hurdle and personally I think he’d be best off having a break and starting again fresh next season over fences.

I will compile a list of bets potentially a week before the festival itself for you to either follow or avoid and may do a short-write up of all 28 races as a preview if I find enough time to do so.

Hope you’ve enjoyed the read!

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