Betfred TV’s Matt Hulmes previews Festival Trials Day at Cheltenham and a cracking card at Doncaster on Saturday

Another big Saturday on the track awaits with the final Cheltenham meeting before the Festival – Trials Day. It goes without saying that plenty of these have aspirations of big race success in the spring, as do many of those also running at Doncaster, so I thought I would take an early look at the cards.

Lots of these horses are doubly-entered over the weekend, and some may not run at all, so approach with caution if having an ante-post bet.

 

Cheltenham

The Triumph Trial Juvenile Hurdle at 12.45 has seen the likes of Defi Du Seuil and Peace And Co do the double in the last seven years, while Grumeti, Rolling Star and Apples Shakira were sent off favourite for the Juvenile Championship after victory here.

Paul Nicholls won the race way back in 2002 and Iceo could follow up his Kempton romp at Christmas with another victory here. Interne De Sivola looks to follow up his course win in December, while Pied Pier will be interesting if making the trip over from Ireland for Gordon Elliott.

Outside of this trio, I can’t see anything making much of a ripple in the market for the Triumph Hurdle on the Friday of the Festival.

Cheltenham Festival Betting Odds

The novice handicap chase has lost its Festival slot, but two of the last three winners of the 1.20 went on to win at Prestbury Park in March so it’s well worth a second look.

Coconut Splash has been frustrating over fences but is of interest for the team that won this race in 2016. He is doubly-entered though. Oscar Elite ran okay behind L’Homme Presse in the Dipper and could be on a nice mark for his first venture into handicap company, while Linelee King has a nice low weight on just his third chase start – but he’s 7lbs worse off with Beakstown on Ayr form.

The all-aged handicap chase that follows is a trial for the Plate.

Simply The Betts tops the weights (also entered in Cotswold Chase) and looks set to renew rivalry with Magic Saint and Coole Cody (entered in everything bar the boat race).

Venetia Williams has a good record in the race and has two entries in Farinet and Realm Keeper, while Whatmore makes his return after 14 months off the track. He goes well fresh, and returns 2lbs lower than when second in the Rehearsal Chase in November 2020.

Half of the Cotswold Chase field have an entry in the newly-named Boodles Cheltenham Gold Cup, but only two would have realistic claims should they line-up in the Blue Riband.

Chantry House was backed into favouritism in the King George but never went a yard, pulling up shortly after halfway. That was not his true running, but taking 5/4 about him just five weeks later isn’t my sort of bet, even though he has the class to win easily as a Festival winner last year.

I’d take a chance here on the proven stamina of Ahoy Senor. He never looked happy at Kempton on Boxing Day where he was brushed aside by Bravemansgame, but he kept to his task willingly. His Newbury win, where he galloped all over some nice novices, still lives firmly in the memory (clip below, courtesy of RacingTV).

Aye Right’s (also entered at Doncaster) Rehearsal Chase win looks strong form, but he has never won at Graded level – while Simply The Betts (entered earlier on card) would be a doubtful stayer over this trip.

At the prices, I would suggest a play on Ahoy Senor. The Towton at Wetherby next month was mentioned as a possible target, but with this field not appearing to be the strongest it would give Ahoy Senor some valuable course experience and I assume connections will take the plunge.

Paisley Park bids for a third Cleeve Hurdle at 3.05, but he will be doing well to beat Champ.

Nicky Henderson’s ten-year-old (pictured above) has only had 16 starts and it was an astounding performance to win at Ascot on his first start since pulling up in the Gold Cup. The staying hurdle division is where he should lay claim now.

He was very keen but showed reserves of stamina to win cosily in the end, and it’s hard not to see him winning again here. He could form the cornerstone of some multiples this weekend.

McFabulous gets 3lbs off the pair, but three miles looked like it stretched him at Newbury in November and his second here in the Relkeel wouldn’t be good enough form.

 

Doncaster

Meanwhile, at Doncaster, Third Time Lucki looks to get his Arkle challenge back on track in the Lightning Novices’ Chase at 1.35, albeit against a select field.

After impressing on chase debut at Cheltenham, Dan Skelton’s seven-year-old was again head-strong when following up in November, before he was brushed aside at Sandown last month by Edwardstone. For Pleasure will ensure there is no hanging around, and the good ground around Town Moor will be right up Third Time Lucki’s street.

He won’t be much of a price, but he should make it three from four over fences and book his ticket to the Festival.

Miranda should retain her crown in the Yorkshire Rose at 2.10 if on her best behaviour.

She gave away many lengths at Ludlow last time out but still managed to get up (clip below, courtesy of Racing TV). The runner-up has won since and her second to Molly Olly’s Wishes at Wetherby in November was also advertised at the weekend. Again, she won’t be much of a price price but should be hard to beat.

The River Don is a trial for the Albert Bartlett and Ben Pauling has won three of the last six renewals. He looks set to rely solely on Not At Present, who has won his last three runs over hurdles. Those were in handicap company, and while he has got a little to find on ratings he has bags of stamina as shown when winning over 3m2f at Fontwell last time from subsequent winner Khan. He looked beat that day but stayed on strongly and this is a race that can throw up surprises. Stamina is certainly a pre-requisite in this contest.

Probable market leaders Hillcrest, Green Book and Unanswered Prayers have all got alternative engagements at Cheltenham.

The SkyBet Chase is a top-class handicap and Annsam could prove popular off just 10-7 if Aye Right stays in. He has gone up 6lbs for winning at Ascot, but the second home Phoenix Way won nicely on Saturday so the rise may not stop him going close on just his sixth chase start.

This race has been on the agenda for Midnight Shadow (pictured below) since missing the King George over Christmas. He has run three tremendous races already this season, and a mark of 155 may still be within his capabilities if connections think he could be borderline Grade 1 class.

Christian Williams has done well to get Cap Du Nord down to a mark 10lbs lower than when third in this race last year, but he hasn’t shown any sparkle at all this season. It has to be taken on trust that he can find his old form, but a market move would inspire some confidence.

 

Weekend Recommendations

1pt win Ahoy Senor (2:30 Cheltenham – Saturday)

1pt win Not At Present (2.45 Doncaster – Saturday)

Today’s Horse Racing Odds