The big Trials Day clues

Betfred TV’s Matt Hulmes looks back at an informative weekend of racing at Cheltenham and Doncaster

Trials Day ultimately delivered far more than it promised this weekend. It provided a platform to propel potential future stars of National Hunt racing into the limelight, but there was one name everyone was talking about at Cheltenham on Saturday – Paisley Park.

Many had written off his chances of dining at the top table in the Stayers’ Hurdle division, but even giving away several lengths when whipping around at the start couldn’t halt his customary burst up the famous hill to deny Champ.

It was a gentle reminder that the ten-year-old is no back number – and credit to Emma Lavelle and Barry Fenton for keeping him in such good form for so long.  He’s now into 8/1 NRNB at Betfred to regain his crown in March, but I firmly believe the winner of that title was his victim this weekend.

Now, there is no blame attached to Jonjo O’Neill Jnr from these quarters for the Cleeve Hurdle. Far from it, in fact. I just think the race transpired against him and Champ on Saturday. He took a lead for as long as he could from Lisnagar Oscar, but that resulted in him being isolated down the middle of the track. If he had come towards the stands’ side, it may have been a different result with the rail to run against – but even then he would have been in front much sooner as McFabulous weakened tamely. He still finished strongly as the pair came well clear, but not as strongly as Paisley Park who had made his run a lot sooner and had all the momentum.

I’m still sticking with Champ to be the Stayers’ Hurdle hero at the festival, and the 5/1 NRNB with Betfred looks the bet.

Cheltenham Festival Betting Odds

A few judges mentioned the potential of switching Champ to the Gold Cup after his defeat and Chantry House’s workmanlike victory, seeing off former stablemate Santini, in the Cotswold Chase.

Jockeys said the ground rode dead on Saturday, which was backed up by the times, but even so there were a couple of sloppy leaps and at times Nico de Boinville could be seen niggling away on Chantry House. Those Gold Cup contenders on the other side of the Irish Sea would have lost very sleep in their stables this weekend.

Chantry House remains a 16/1 shot NRNB for the Gold Cup, but I couldn’t have him on my mind after what I saw this weekend.

It was great to see Santini run such a big race, and his trainer Polly Gundry thinks he will strip fitter still for the Gold Cup. It’s hard to see this 66/1 hope bettering his 2020 effort when runner-up to Al Boum Photo, but this looked a cracking trial for the Grand National should they go that route.

Pied Piper won the Triumph Trial in a canter under a motionless Davy Russell and propelled himself from into 5/2 favourite NRNB for the juvenile championship.

It was visually very impressive, and the time compared favourably with the handicap on the card too given he didn’t even need to be pushed out.

It gives connections a dilemma – albeit a nice one – as they also have Fil Dor, who we may see in action at the Dublin Racing Festival at Leopardstown this weekend, in their ranks, who Pied Piper usurped as market leader. 

There were musings after the Triumph Trial on Saturday that one of the two could go for the Supreme, for which Pied Piper was inserted at 10/1 (Fil Dor 14/1). This is where the NRNB concession comes into its own as I guess it will be a late call before concrete plans for the pair are made.

The runner-up, Moka De Vassy, needs a check in the market for the Boodles Juvenile Handicap on the opening day of the Festival.

He was well-backed on debut at Ffos Las before running a stinker, but improved markedly on that at Newbury next time when six lengths behind Forever William. He made up that ground to beat him by just under a length into third, nine lengths behind the winner, at the weekend. The progress he’s shown with each run would give him a shout off what could be a low weight and a nice price in the Boodles.

Mullenbeg may not go to Prestbury Park in March according to Milton Harris, as Aintree’s Grade 2 Mares’ Bumper is her big target. However, with all the allowances she would receive and given the commanding nature of her win here at Listed level, they may be tempted to take a chance.

Her jockey Mitch Bastyan, who rode out his claim in winning on Saturday, was always looking confident and the ground she made circling the field and turning for home was mightily impressive. She went from near last to first in around half a furlong and surged five lengths clear. She could be a name we hear plenty of.

Today’s Horse Racing Odds

Imperial Alcazar was a bitterly disappointing leading fancy for the English in the Pertemps Final at last year’s Festival, and it looks like he may get a chance to put that right over fences this year after romping to a 10-length success in the 2m4f handicap chase on Saturday.

The win marked 100 for the season for the Fergal O’Brien and Graeme Macpherson partnership – and although the handicapper will have his say and a steep rise will likely follow, he could be a player in the Plate over the same track and trip. At 10/1 NRNB, he’s of interest.

Torn And Frayed is another potential contender for the Plate at 12/1 NRNB after his G3 win in the following race. It is worth noting, however, that he recorded a slower time than Imperial Alcazar despite carrying a stone less.

He could be an interesting contender for the Greatwood Gold Cup at Newbury ten days before the Festival if the going is on the decent side, as he looks a well treated horse on this weekend’s evidence.

It was a game effort from Galahad Quest to finish runner-up, and he looks like another runner with claims in the Plate (25/1). He was a Trials Day winner in 2020 before running down the field at the Festival, but the six-year-old has run well in three course and distance handicaps this season. Nick Williams won the Plate after winning this race with Sirah Du Lac in 2019, and Galahad Quest would be interesting should he get in off a low weight.

We have to venture back to 2015 to find the last time Alan King was in the winners’ enclosure at the Festival, but he has a live chance of returning this year courtesy of Edwardstone (Arkle) and now also North Lodge after his gutsy win in the Classic Novices’ Hurdle. He’s now two-from-two after following up his winning debut at Aintree in November.

He was cut to 16/1 NRNB at Betfred for the Ballymore after winning this race, which was an eventful one as the odds-on Hillcrest was hampered and unshipped Richard Patrick and three flights were omitted due to low sun – so the form should be treated cautiously. However, on both occasions North Lodge has shown battling qualities and that would stand him in good stead in the heat of a Festival battle.

There was also some good racing up at Doncaster where Third Time Lucki got his Arkle claims back on track in the G2 Lightning Novices’ Chase. He settled better this time as For Pleasure set a good pace before looming alongside him down the home straight going ever so easily. The result wasn’t in any doubt as For Pleasure crashed out at the last to leave Third Time Lucki to cruise home.

Sadly, it’s been reported he suffered a slight overreach and his Cheltenham appearance could be in doubt, but Dan Skelton will assess him in the coming days. That is a shame as he has two course and distance wins at Cheltenham over fences on his CV and despite firmly put in his place by Edwardstone at Sandown I hadn’t given up hope for him in the Arkle.

There are now only 23 entries – of which Willie Mullins trains eight – after the loss of Ferny Hollow, so it could be a small field again and he could well have a say if overcoming the injury. He is 6/1 NRNB at Betfred.

Miss Heritage bolted up in the Yorkshire Rose which rubbished the theory she is a mud-lark (although the ground can be queried at Doncaster on Saturday as the times were quite slow for the supposed good ground).

She took a couple of notable scalps, but she has raced exclusively at two miles and I doubt she would appear in the Mares’ Hurdle. There is, however, a good case to be made for her stablemate Martello Sky in that race.

She was a useful bumper performer and a good novice hurdler, and she appears to be getting even better with experience. She has climbed the ranks this season, making it three-from-four for the campaign when winning at Sandown in December despite hating the heavy ground. It was attitude and ability that got her home there, and her only defeat this year was when she was fourth and outpaced at Aintree behind Brewin’upastorm.

Martello Sky is two-from-two at over the two-and-a-half-mile trip at Cheltenham, beating former Festival winner and West Yorkshire Hurdle scorer Indefatigable at the track in December. These pair are the shortest-priced British-trained contenders for the Mares’ Hurdle, and although the Irish will have a strong hand I think the 12/1 on offer underestimates her.

Finally, Mahler Mission was another Irish novice hurdle winner this weekend and was clipped into 25/1 for the Albert Bartlett after winning the River Don Novices’ Hurdle.

This always turns into a gruelling contest, which is probably why no winner in the last 12 years has got competitive at Cheltenham – with Barters Hill and Constantine Bay’s fourth-placed finishes the best results.

The race may leave a mark, but he is a resolute galloper and John McConnell’s charge will add to another strong Irish challenge in the novice hurdle department.

Betfred are now Non Runner No Bet (NRNB) on ALL 28 races for the 2022 Cheltenham Festival