IT’S Trials Day at Cheltenham on Saturday, with seven superb races to enjoy.
There are the usual mix of classy Graded races and red-hot handicaps, so we’ve got stuck in and hopefully picked you some winners.
Race 1 – 12.40 JCB Triumph Trial Juvenile Hurdle (Grade 2)
Monte Cristo is a fascinating recruit for Nicky Henderson.
The French import won a valuable race at Auteuil on his final start across the Channel and he comes here with a tall reputation.
But he is skinny enough at the head of the betting, so he is taken on with ROWLAND WARD.
A useful horse on the Flat, he left a first-time-out fall behind him when running out a decisive winner at Kempton over Christmas. The form of that race has been franked.
Gerolamo Cardano breezed through the mud to win easily at Hereford earlier this month and he won’t be far away if coping with these sounder conditions.
SELECTION: Rowland Ward
DANGER: Monte Cristo
Race 2 – 1.15 Timeform Novices’ Handicap Chase
An absolute cracker of a race with several of these in with a good chance.
Simply The Betts ran in snatches when second at Kempton on Boxing Day, but he’s well-handicapped on his earlier form and he must go close.
Hat-trick seeker Champagne Court had subsequent Sandown winner Mercy Mercy Me in behind when landing the odds at Plumpton in November.
He is still on the up, though it’s slightly worrying that he has been off for 68 days and returns wearing a first-time tongue tie.
On The Slopes travelled well when third at Kempton (half a length behind Simply The Betts) and he is surely capable of winning a race off his current mark.
He commands respect, as does Haydock winner Cloudy Glen and class-dropper Jarveys Plate.
But the highly-regarded IMPERIAL AURA looks potentially thrown in off 136 following his excellent second to Pym here in December.
He gave that rival, now rated 152, a better race than the winning margin of 8 lengths suggests and the drop back to 2m4f is a big plus.
SELECTION: Imperial Aura
EACH-WAY: On The Slopes
Race 3 – 1.50 Paddy Power 45 Sleeps To Cheltenham Trophy Handicap Chase (Grade 3)
COUNT MERIBEL ran well for a long way in the BetVictor Gold Cup here in November.
He jumped well and travelled nicely into contention but got tired turning in on stamina-sapping going.
The ground is drying out here, he arrives fresh from a break and he has enough form in the book to suggest a mark of 145 is exploitable.
It was good to see Lalor bounce back when a close third on New Year’s Day, and he would be bang there if running to the same level again. That is a big ‘if’ though.
Highway One O One only gave way close home at Kempton and must go close off just 2lb higher.
Cepage has been below-par the last twice but is dangerous to dismiss, while Warthog and Spiritofthegames, first and second in the December Gold Cup, also enter calculations.
SELECTION: Count Meribel
Race 4 – 2.25 Paddy Power Cotswold Chase (Grade 2)
A do or die afternoon for SANTINI, who puts his Gold Cup credentials on the line.
Nicky Henderson’s strapping eight-year-old had some top-class form during his novice season, including a close second in the RSA Chase here.
He has only had one run so far this term, when a workmanlike winner at Sandown in November, but he returns having had a wind op and his trainer adamant he is in better form now.
He remains an exciting prospect in this sphere and gets the nod ahead of high-class novice Slate House.
The Tizzard’s have decided to pitch him into open company following his decisive win in the Kauto Star at Kempton on Boxing Day and he is unbeaten over fences when staying on his feet.
Northern raider Top Ville Ben commands respect on the back of his easy Rowland Meyrick victory, and he will be very dangerous if getting a soft lead.
Bristol De Mai is the top-rated horse in the field but his 0-4 record round here is off-putting, despite the fact he has run well in defeat.
DANGER: Slate House
Race 5 – 3.00 Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle (Registered As The Classic Novices’ Hurdle) (Grade 2)
Protektorat was a narrow winner of a good race over C&D last time out.
He holds rock-solid claims on that evidence, while Harry Senior has some smart form to his name and has been re-routed here having been a late withdrawal at Warwick.
But Harry Fry looks to have a very smart type on his hands in the shape of KING ROLAND.
Unbeaten in bumpers, he was second behind a smart one on hurdling debut at Newbury (having travelled sweetly) and he duly opened his account in great style at Exeter last time. This step up in trip will suit.
House Island shouldn’t be underestimated and won’t be far away at decent odds.
SELECTION: King Roland
Race 6 – 3.35 galliardhomes.com Cleeve Hurdle (Grade 2)
Impossible to look beyond the dominant staying hurdler PAISLEY PARK.
He is unbeaten since March 2018 and he bolted up in this race en route to Stayers’ Hurdle success last season.
He was a cosy winner at Newbury when last sighted and he doesn’t appear to have any chinks in his armour.
If The Cap Fits is an interesting rival. The form of his Coral Hurdle victory has been franked and he is unexposed over this trip, with his last outing over three-miles resulting in a gutsy Grade 1 win at Aintree.
Similar sentiments apply to Summerville Boy, who bounced back to his best to win the Relkeel Hurdle on New Year’s Day. The step up in trip shouldn’t be an issue for him.
L’Ami Serge somehow had to settle for second in the Long Walk Hurdle at Ascot having looked all over the winner. He isn’t straightforward but could hit the frame.
SELECTION: Paisley Park
DANGER: If The Cap Fits
Race 7 – 4.10 Steel Plate And Sections Handicap Hurdle
Take a chance on SLEEP EASY for the Sophie Leech team.
He wasn’t hard pushed to finish sixth in a decent race at Taunton last time. He lines up off a good mark and will appreciate the return to a stiffer track.
Northern Beau ran out a gutsy winner over fences at this track last month.
She switches back to hurdles off the same mark and is feared most in her hunt for back-to-back wins.
En Meme Temps returns from a break and caught the eye when second at Carlisle last time out. He makes each-way appeal, as does Lust For Glory.
Sofia’s Rock also enters calculations but he faces a tough task under top-weight.
It will be interesting to see how unbeaten French import We Run The Night goes in the betting on his debut for Ben Pauling.