Have the notebooks at the ready on Saturday as Cheltenham plays host to trials day where we will undoubtedly see some future Cheltenham 2020 festival winners. Chief among them will be Paisley Park who bids for back to back victories in the Cleeve Hurdle en-route to another crack at the Stayers’ Hurdle. Another horse we could see do the trials day/Chelteam festival double is Santini who’s been slightly forgotten about in the Gold Cup market.
There are also three races coming to us from Doncaster with Lady Buttons bidding to repeat her heroics of twelve months ago in the Mares” Hurdle and Burbank looks like a horse to keep on the right side of in the handicap chase.
Cheltenham Trophy Handicap
Recent course and distance winner (Caspian Caviar Gold Cup) Warthog heads the betting for the Pipe team. He has shown the benefit of a wind-op in his two most recent starts and a four-pound rise in the weights may not be enough to stop this in-form gelding.
It was great to see Lalor show some of his old sparkle in the Paddy Power on New Years Day where he only lost out by a short-head in a three-way head bobber. I think that a four-pound hike is pretty steep but he’s a classy individual and may be able to cope.
Paul Nicholls runs My Way here who went well at Ascot for a long way behind Espoir De Guye. This will be his first taste of Prestbury Park and bearing in mind that’s he’s had wind problems in the past, I think the hill might prove too much.
This race is often used as a stepping stone to the Gold Cup but the race has a very poor record of producing Gold Cup winners. That being said Santini could be the forgotten horse in the Gold Cup market and if he puts in a big performance here he could spring to the fore of the market. Nicky’s eight-year-old has yet to finish out of the placings and has twice been placed at the festival itself. He won nicely on seasonal debut and a big run can be expected.
De Rasher Counter was a somewhat surprise winner of the Ladbrokes Trophy at Newbury and the handicapper has taken no chances giving him a nine-pound penalty for that victory. He fell on his only other visit to Prestbury Park and may be found wanting in this better company.
The front-running Top Ville Ben always wears his heart on his sleeve and got due reward for his consistency when landing a Grade 3 at Wetherby. He was Grade when placed last season and should once again be right there going to the last.
Bristol De Mai historically keeps his best for Haydock but did finish third in last season’s Gold Cup and third in this very race in 2018.
Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle
The top-weight Protektorat is the class act her for Sir Alex Fergus and co. The lightly-raced French import was a listed winner over course and distance on New Years Day and must rate as a danger to all.
The flat-bred House Island was a listed bumper winner last season and was thought good enough to run in a Grade 1 at Punchestown at the end of the season. If not for making a mistake at the last in a Grade 2 at Sandown he would have most likely won and is an intriguing contender.
Harry Fry’s King Roland has won three of his four career starts to date and really couldn’t have won an easier at Exeter. The well-bred son of Stowaway is a very likeable sort and is worth following.
Selection: House Island
This race revolves around last season Stayers’ Hurdle winner Paisley Park who seems to be a class apart in the staying division. He was an impressive winner of this very race twelve months ago and it’s hard to see him getting beat.
L’Ami Serge put up a great performance on his first start in over a year and a half in the Marsh Hurdle in December, where he finished runner-up. He would have undoubtedly needed that run and given his back class, he could prove to be Paisley Park’s biggest danger.
I have long been an If The Cap Fits fan and given how well he stayed when winning the Grade 1 Stayers’ Hurdle at Aintree there could be more to come from him at this trip. He never seems to run a bad race and should once again go close.
The other horse of note is Tobefair who was one of the most improved handicappers of 2017 and seems to have regained that rich vein of form with recent form figures of “22113” including at listed level on his most recent start.
Selection: Paisley Park
Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle
The Skelton team continue in a rich vein of form and looks to have a very nice prospect with the unbeaten Boss Man Fred. The son of Dubai Destination travelled well and ran all the way to the line over course and distance last month and a ten-pound rise in the weights seems fair.
Champagne Well was kept busy last season and ended the campaign with a fine sixth in the Grade 1 Doom Bar Hurdle at Aintree. He’s solely raced at Cheltenham this season and has twice been placed in Grade 2 company which brings him into the mix here.
Jamie Snowden’s team continues in good form with Thomas Macdonagh leading the charge following three victories on the bounce, He got an incredible fifteen-pounds for his runaway Wetherby victory and has earned a crack at this Grade 2.
Another horse that has risen through the handicap ranks is Eva’s Oskar who’s gone up twenty-four pounds and was a smooth winner over the classy Clyne at Chepstow on Boxing Day.
Selection: Champagne Well
Yorkshire Rose Mares’ Hurdle
Lady Buttons came out the right side of a thrilling three-way finish at Doncaster which backed up her fine run when fourth in the Fighting Fifth at Newcastle over Christmas, she’s against her own sex again here and will take all the beating in a bid for back-to-back victories in the race.
Nicky Henderson’s Floressa has seen very little racing to date and beat the smart Jermeys Plame in a listed contest at Newbury in November. She’s had plenty of time between her races and will be a danger to all.
Irish Roe nearly always seems to run her race but has yet to win at Doncaster and I think she’s vulnerable against some in-form rivals.
Selection: Lady Buttons
Doncaster Handicap Chase
Dingo Dollar has a decent record around Doncaster and finished less than ten lengths behind the winner in the Ladbrokes Trophy but was well beaten off a two-pound higher mark in this race last year and needs to find further improvement.
Owner Trevor Hemmings loves a staying chaser and his Burbank seems to fit that bill, given how easily he beat Tidal Flow at Newbury over Christmas. That was just his third start over the larger obstacles and the extra distance could bring further improvement.
The booking of Derek O’Connor to ride Ok Corral tell you all you need to know about that horse’s future plans, wit the National Hunt Chase an obvious target once again. I expect him to run well in this but undoubtedly his season will be focused around Cheltenham.
House Island – 1pt E/W
Champagne Well – 1pt Win
Burbank – 2pt E/W