Cheltenham Trials Day Betting Tips – 26th January 2019

This year’s Cheltenham Festival is now beginning to take shape in terms of the likely favourites and which horses will go where. The next piece of the jigsaw fits into place this coming Saturday, as the home of the greatest racing festival on the planet lays on its official “Trials Day”.

The name of this meeting would suggest it is merely a preliminary for the big one back here in March, but that is possibly a little misleading. There is plenty of prize money up for grabs across this seven-race card, and no doubt a few of these runners will have a win here as a major target, with any further success at the Festival coming as an added bonus.

In terms of pointers towards Festival winners, this meeting has something of a mixed record – of the winners here last season, only Mister Whitaker followed up at the Festival itself. Other years have fared better though, and this remains a fixture well worth a watch both in its own right, and with an eye to those ante post punts. Here we take a closer look at exactly what we have in store.

12:40pm – JCB Triumph Trial Juvenile Hurdle (Grade 2), 2m1f

Adjali to win at 7/4 with Coral

The opener has proved to be an influential contest when looking at the Triumph Hurdle itself in recent years. Both 2015 winner Peace And Co and 2017 hero Defi Du Seuil went on to land the opening contest on the final day at the Festival. Interestingly both of those runners went in the colours of JP McManus which would suggest he may favour this route for his most talented juveniles. McManus has two entries this year and both are amongst the outsiders. Pagero has yet to race over hurdles and is difficult to assess, but Fine Brunello ran a nice race last time out at Limerick, looks sure to improve, and could go well at a decent price for Joseph O’Brien.

The strongest trend in evidence here though concerns the winning trainer, with juvenile hurdle king Nicky Henderson having sent out the winner in four of the past six seasons. Henderson has just the one entered this year, but that may well be all he needs, as recent French recruit Adjali looks to boast excellent claims. An effortless 13 length winner on debut for the yard, he then went down by just a neck to Quel Destin in the Grade 1 Coral Finale Juvenile Hurdle at Chepstow. With 22 lengths back to the third that day, that looks a solid effort and he could well be up to taking this.

1:15pm – Timeform Novices’ Handicap Chase (Class 2), 2m4½f

Glen Forsa to win at 5/2 with Betfair

We see the opening handicap on the card going the same way as it did last year with the Tim Radford colours sported to victory by Mister Whitaker hopefully coming home in front once again. The horse to do the honours this time around goes by the name of Glen Forsa.

This one hasn’t been the easiest to train by the looks of things, being lightly raced for a seven year old. The plus side of that though is that he remains unexposed and will be having just his third start over fences here. A perfect two from two so far, he is up 13lb for his win last time out, but he did it in a canter that day, and with the second in that race having since gone on to score by 23 lengths, the form looks solid.

1:50pm – Spectra Cyber Security Solutions Trophy Handicap Chase (Grade 3), 2m4½f

Activial each way at 10/1 with bet365

Janika looks interesting for Nicky Henderson here having run an excellent race when second to Hell’s Kitchen on his debut for the yard. Any improvement on that would bring him right into contention. Looking at his form though he does seem to be better on soft ground and may not get that here. He is nevertheless one to bear in mind should the rains arrive.

As things stand the one we like best is the top-weight, Activial. Another who hasn’t had the easiest time of it, he is on to his third trainer, but does finally seem to be enjoying himself again now at Tom George’s yard. A 16-length winner at Haydock two starts back, he was just as impressive in failing by only a short head to concede 11lbs to the useful Kildisart at Ascot. Only four pounds higher than when third in the 2015 Coral Cup, he looks set to go well.

2:25pm – Betbright Trial Cotswold Chase (Grade 2), 3m1½f

Minella Rocco each way at 10/1 with Coral

The admirable Frodon heads the betting for Paul Nicholls here and deservedly so on ratings – being nine pounds clear of his nearest rival. Impressive as he has been this season though, his two wins have come at around 2m4f, and this step up in trip poses a question. On balance one would think we will stay, but he is nevertheless zero from three at 3m and looks short enough.

Next in the betting comes Welsh National hero Elegant Escape. In contrast to Frodon we just wonder if this will be quite enough of a test for this dour stayer. Black Corton looks interesting and is fancied to go well, but at the prices we will take a chance on Minella Rocco. It was only in 2017 that this one was finishing second to Sizing John in the Gold Cup around here and if getting anywhere near that level he ought to prove very tough to beat. Last season didn’t go to plan, but he has had a wind op in the interim and is a big enough price to take an each way chance on.

3:00pm – Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle (Grade 2), 2m4½f

Birchdale to win at 13/8 with Ladbrokes

Nicky Henderson took this last season with Santini, and he looks to boast strong claims once again with his duo of Champ and Birchdale being our pick of the current entries.

Champ has been mightily impressive in landing his past four on the spin and looks a horse firmly on the up. The betting market would however suggest that it is Birchdale who is most likely to line up here. Giving a glowing report in a stable tour at the start of the season, he backed that up with an impressive win in his maiden at Warwick, and the fact that he is now stepped straight into this company suggests he is showing plenty at home. We were pretty taken with that debut win and fancy him to follow up here.

3:35pm – Cleeve Hurdle (Grade 2), 3m

Aux Ptits Soins each way at 7/1 with Bet365

Next up is one of the key trials for the Stayers’ Hurdle, and a race which has a pretty illustrious roll of honour. The likes of Big Buck’s, Thistlecrack and Unowhatimeanharry all having prevailed here in the past decade.

The four-timer seeking Paisley Park is the form horse coming into the race, whilst high class hurdler Black Op looks interesting now reverting back to the smaller obstacles following a disappointing chase campaign. The one we want to have onside though is the Dan Skelton trained Aux Ptits Soins.

This one has form figures of 151 at this track – including a win in the 2015 Coral Cup when with Paul Nicholls – and following a spell in the doldrums looked back to something like his best when stamping his class all over the field here last time out. If able to hold his jumping together, this horse has the engine to make his presence felt here and possibly in the Stayers’ Hurdle itself.

4:10pm – Steel Plate And Sections Handicap Hurdle (Class 2), 2m1f

Maquisard each way at 12/1 with BetVictor

The handicappers close out the action in a race in which nine of the past 10 winners have been saddled with less than 11st on the day. One who fits the bill this year is the Chris Gordon runner, Maquisard. Third last time out at Kempton, he looked all over the winner approaching the second last only to veer alarmingly left to blow any chance. Back going left handed here and off an unchanged mark of 122 he can go close for a trainer who has taken this twice in the past four years.

About the Cheltenham Trials Day Races

View Over Cheltenham Racecourse from Cleeve Common

Cheltenham Racecourse will always be best known for the Festival that it hosts every March, but there are a number of meetings held there throughout the year that are deserving of their own conversation. The November Meeting is a good example of this, which we’ve written about elsewhere on here, but so is the Cheltenham Trails Day. The big difference between the two, of course, is that the latter is still heavily tied to the Festival whilst the former is better known as being the moment that the Festival buildup really gets underway.

This is an example of a meeting that has a name that tells you all of the vital information. Coming just a few weeks before the Festival itself gets underway, Trials Day is a day not only for the horses to be tested in advance of the big occasion, but it’s also an opportunity for the racecourse itself to be put through its paces in something of a ‘soft opening’ before the famous ‘Cheltenham Roar’ can be heard throughout the town. It’s also a meeting that is notable for almost every race being one that is worth watching, meaning that it is the racing equivalent of the ‘all thriller, no filler’ cliché.

Because of the nature of the meeting, pretty much every race during Trials Day has something about it that the wise punter can learn from. Here’s a look at each of the races in turn:

Triumph Hurdle Trial

Officially known as the Finesse Juvenile Novices’ Hurdle, this race was first run back in 1985. It is the preliminary race for likely runners in the Triumph Hurdle during the Cheltenham Festival. One thing that is worth noting at the time of writing is that just two horses have actually gone on to win the race in March after winning this one first.

The first to do it was Katchit in 2007, ridden in both races by Robert Thornton and trained by Alan King. The second came exactly ten years later when Barry Geraghty rode Defi Du Seuil for Philip Hobbs in the Trial before Richard Johnson took over at the Festival. With winners of the Triumph Hurdle often going on to do well in the Champion Hurdle at future Festivals, you could look upon the Triumph Hurdle Trial as a glimpse into the future of both if you wanted to.

Open to four-year-olds, the Grade 2 race takes place on the New Course and features eight hurdles during its running. It lasts for around two miles and a furlong, with novice hurdlers being the horses that are entered into it, as the race’s original name suggests.

Novices’ Handicap Chase

Sponsored by Timeform, this handicap chase features seventeen fences. It’s for horses aged five-years-old and over, with the best performing competitors often going on to do well in the Novices' Handicap Chase during the Festival.

The race lasts for two miles, four furlongs and a little over one hundred and fifty yards, with the name of it telling you all of the vital information. It’s a chase for novices, with no weights in place on account of the fact that it’s a handicap.

Trophy Handicap Chase

This race was run for the first time in 1993, becoming a Listed offering nine years later. It’s for horses aged five and over that can handle the seventeen fences that need to be jumped during the two miles and five furlongs that its run over.

Awarded Grade 3 status in 2005, the race has enjoyed numerous sponsors over the years. One hint of what winners of this race might get up to in the years that follow its running comes in the form of Papillon, who won it in 1998, being victorious in the Grand National two years later.

Three horses have won the race more than once. The Sawyer did so in 2009 and 2010, with Wishfull Thinking winning it in 2011 as an eight-year-old before winning it again as an eleven-year-old in 2014. Annacotty also achieved this feat by winning back-to-back title in 2015 and 2016, so having a look to see who won it last time out might give you some helpful information.

Cotswold Chase

If there was to be a standout race of the day then there’s a strong argument for it to be the Trial Cotswold Steeple Chase. It’s for horses aged five and up and features twenty-one fences during the three miles, one and a half furlong course. It’s neither the length nor the number of fences that makes this Grade 2 race the most popular of the day, however, but rather the fact that it is considered by many to be an indicator of how a horse might do in the Gold Cup and the Grand National.

The race has been taking place since 1980, with the event taking on numerous sponsored names since then to join its registered name of the Cotswold Chase. Just two horses have won it more than once, with See More Business doing so in 1998 and 2001 before Many Clouds repeated the trick in 2015 and 2017.

Many Clouds’ story is a tragic one, though, with the Irish-bred horse winning the National in 2015 but dying in 2017. There was much excitement about the battle between the thoroughbred and Thistlecrack ahead of the 2017 Cotswold Chase, with Many Clouds ultimately prevailing. Unfortunately he suffered an exercise-induced pulmonary hemorrhage in the immediate aftermath of the race, putting a sad spin on his incredible achievement.

Ballymore Classic Novices' Hurdle

Another Grade 2 offering, another hurdle for the punters to watch and learn from. Set over two miles and four and a half furlongs, the race is open to horses aged five and over. It’s one of the most exciting hurdle races for novices during Trials Day and there ten of the obstacles to jump before it’s over.

It’s one of the youngest races, having only been run since 2005. That it’s open for novices means that no horse has won it more than once, though the same cannot be said of jockeys. Barry Geraghty racked up three wins between 2005 and 2016. This is a race for those of you that like to play the long-game with your note-taking; Bobs Worth won this race in 2011 before winning the Gold Cup at the Festival two years later.

Cleeve Hurdle 

Cleeve Hill is the highest point in Gloucestershire, so there’s an argument that it’s entirely appropriate for this race to be named after it. Open to horses aged five and up and with ten hurdles to be jumped over during the two miles, seven furlongs and two hundred and thirteen yards of its running, the race first took place in 1983.

The Festival’s Stayers' Hurdle is the race that this one often points towards, with the aforementioned Thistlecrack winning them both in 2016. He also went on to win the King George VI Chase that season, so you’d do well to keep hold of the names of previous winners for future reference. Big Buck’s is the most successful horse in the Stayers’ Hurdle’s history, winning it on four consecutive occasions between 2009 and 2012 and combining that with wins in the Cleeve Hurdle in 2009 and 2011.

Inglis Drever is another horse that has won both races, doing so in 2008. Interestingly, though, Lady Rebecca is the Cleeve Hurdle’s most successful runner thanks to her three wins between 1999 and 2001, but she never went on to win the Stayers’ Hurdle. Evidence, were it needed, that not every winner will go on to finish first in the Festival’s race.

Steel Plate & Sections Handicap Hurdle

Trials Day usually comes to a close with the Steel Plate & Sections Handicap Hurdle, another handicap offering. It’s run over a distance of two miles and one hundred and seventy-nine yards, with eight hurdles to be negotiated.

It’s another race that has a title that gives you the important information, being a handicap race for hurdlers. It’s for horses aged four and up and sees the day concude in style.