Cheltenham hosted Festival Trials Day on Saturday 25th January with an excellent seven-race programme offering five Graded contests.
The going for Festival Trials Day was Soft, and attendance came to 20,245. Photographer Ian Yates was on hand to capture the action. www.eyewhy.co.uk
12:40pm £32,000 JCB Triumph Trial Juvenile Hurdle (Grade 2) 2m 179y
The opening G2 JCB Triumph Hurdle Trial saw success for Galahad Quest (Nick Williams/Harry Cobden, 6/1, pictured above – far right), who was registering his first win on his third start.
Always in a prominent position just in behind the leader, Galahad Quest took up the running after the last and stayed on well to deny Night Edition by a length. The 10/11 favourite Monte Cristo, making his UK debut, made most of the running before fading after the final flight to come home fourth.
Nick Williams said: “It was a massive step forward from Galahad Quest. I hoped this track would suit him better than Taunton did the other day – he ran well there but I was hopeful that he would run better today.
“On the home bend, we were in fifth place and I thought that we were going nowhere. I think we had a nice run through the race and were always in a good position but I was worried on the home bend. I thought we weren’t going to get there.
“He jumped OK-ish. He is just a big horse who is inexperienced and only going to get better. He is 16.2hh, a good, scopey horse and out of a Dom Alco mare, so it’s a proper jumping pedigree.
“We won this race once before with Le Rocher a long time ago  and he was due to come back for the Triumph Hurdle. I don’t necessarily see Galahad Quest as a Triumph Hurdle prospect but it’s possible that he could run.
“A horse like him wouldn’t want to be going on very quick ground. Even good to soft at Cheltenham in March would be too much for him. I would rather look after him, to be honest.”
Harry Cobden added: “Galahad Quest is a lovely, big, fine horse. He was a bit novicey over the first three or four but got into it really well and stayed on great, which is what you really like to see in those juveniles.
“He is 16.2hh now and will grow another hand over the summer, so whatever Nick can achieve as a juvenile this year will only be a bonus for when he jumps a fence one day.”
1:15pm £27,500 Timeform Novices’ Handicap Chase 2m 4f 127y
A very game performance saw Simply The Betts (Harry Whittington/Gavin Sheehan, 11/2, pictured above – near right) record a decisive success in the Timeform Novices’ Handicap Chase under 11st 5lb.
The seven-year-old was always close to the head of affairs and took a clear advantage approaching the final fence. He stayed on resolutely on the run in to see off 5/1 favourite Imperial Aura by a length and a half.
Harry Whittington commented: “Simply The Betts didn’t get into any sort of rhythm around Kempton last time – if you don’t get into a rhythm around Kempton, your chance can go. To storm home like he did to finish second that day was impressive, from where he had to come from, but his jumping was nowhere near good enough.
“I was thrilled with today. We have sent him to Laura Collett three times and it has made some difference to his jumping. Gavin gave him a brilliant ride and Joe Hill, who rides him every day at home, has done a brilliant job with him.
“All the team are delighted because we have had nine seconds since Jammy George at Newbury in mid-December and one winner from 15 runs. They have been in great form but we have been hitting the crossbar a lot. They are still in good form, so we will keep it rolling from here.
“We will take this in and see what happens. He is entered in a couple of Festival races and we will just let the dust settle and go from there. He is by Arcadio and they are better on better ground but he handles soft. He won on good to firm at Warwick, so I think he is very versatile.”
Gavin Sheehan said: “A big shout out goes to Laura Collett, who has done a lot of work with Simply The Betts. The last day, he was one or the other – he was jumping a little bit to the left. To be fair, he won two races over fences but, now that we are stepping up into better class, he needed to help himself. He was class today.
“I dictated the race in front and said to Brendan Powell, who was upsides me, a long way out that I thought it was going to be one of us winning because I thought that we could kick whenever we wanted. Adam Wedge kicked on and I just held on to my lad because I knew I had a turn of foot, but this horse has a bit of class about him. He has winged up over the last, went to go on and toughed it out up that hill.
“He has speed and I thought that he stayed very strongly the last day at Kempton, but he didn’t travel that day. He travelled today and jumped great – he could go down in trip or up in trip and it depends on the ground and how he is going. He has options.”
1:50pm £70,000 Paddy Power 45 Sleeps To Cheltenham Trophy Handicap Chase (Grade 3) 2m 4f 127y
Top-weight of 11st 12lb was no bar to success for Cepage (Venetia Williams/Charlie Deutsch, 8/1, pictured above – in front) as the eight-year-old made virtually all the running to take the G3 Paddy Power 45 Sleeps To Cheltenham Trophy Handicap Chase.
Strongly pressed after the last, Cepage just kept finding more and more on the run in and at the finish had half a length to spare over Spiritofthegames with Lalor another neck away in third.
Venetia Williams said: “I am absolutely thrilled with Cepage. He so deserved to win that. It hasn’t happened for various reasons and, as they landed over the last and there they were – all biting at his heels, I just thought ‘Oh, not again!’, but it’s fantastic.
“Charlie has given him a fantastic ride and his jumping has stood him in such good stead. It’s a great performance with top weight. He is a wonderful horse – he is not very big but has put a wonderful performance in.”
Charlie Deutsch added: “He loves his job and is really tough. He has been running well for ages in these good races and deserved to get his head in front. I was really pleased and he has some lovely owners (The Bellamy Partnership).
“He felt really good today. The ground was a bit slower than the last time, which has helped him a bit. Every time a horse came to him, he kept finding a bit more. I could hear them and I was getting a bit worried, it was a long run-in that seemed to go on forever.
“We also have Aso in the Ryanair, which he runs well in, and I will leave it to Venetia as she knows what she is doing.”
2:25pm £100,000 Paddy Power Cotswold Chase (Grade 2) 3m 1f 56y
Trainer Nicky Henderson saddled his second Paddy Power Cotswold Chase winner when Santini justified 13/8 favouritism in the 2020 renewal. It was Henderson’s second success in the feature contest on Festival Trials Day following Raffi Nelson in 1980.
The 2020 running turned into a match between the winner and Bristol de Mai, third in the 2019 Magners Cheltenham Gold Cup. Bristol de Mai made the running before a mistake three fences from home handed the advantage to Santini.
Despite a rallying effort from Bristol de Mai, Santini was always doing enough and stayed on strongly to score by three and a half lengths. None of the five other starters got competitive and there was 29 lengths back to Top Ville Ben in third.
Nicky Henderson said: “I think this horse is worth the wait because that’s what it is all about – he is big, powerful and learning all the time. That was a lot better than Sandown, when we thought it would be an easy race and he wasn’t that impressive. We did do his wind but he thrives on work, work, work and we have thrown it at him. I can’t believe that there isn’t a fair amount of improvement to come – there has to be improvement, to be fair.
“Bristol de Mai is a rock-solid benchmark – I looked as though we had got there and then he came back and had another crack. Santini fought back well and there is plenty of improvement and plenty of time. We won’t be racing between now and the Gold Cup but it’s an open race – there are a lot of protagonists and we are one of them.
“He didn’t have to win today, but it is very satisfying to see him come back. He has been like that at home – he has been sharp and well. He takes a huge amount of work but he loves it – the more he does, the better he is. He will get a few quiet days between now and March, but he won’t get a lot of them.
“The better the ground, the better it would be for Santini. We know that Bristol de Mai would go through a paddy field whereas Santini wouldn’t. We have work to do between now and March but we are in the ball game and can look forward.”
Nico de Boinville commented: “That was fairly testing, but that’s how we like it. I have to give full credit to the guv’nor and the whole team at home. They have done a fantastic job with this horse, who has not been the easiest to train – they have got him A1 for the day.
“If I sit back on Santini and let him to his own thing, he doesn’t really quite come alive, so I wanted to get him upsides and wake him up a bit. It was gruelling and the form is rock solid as well. We are back on track, which is nice.”
Santini is a 7/1 chance (from 9/1) for the Magners Cheltenham Gold Cup with Paddy Power. The last horse to win the Paddy Power Cotswold Chase and go on to victory in the Magners Cheltenham Gold Cup in the same season was Looks Like Trouble in 2000.
3:00pm £60,000 Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle (Grade 2) 2m 4f 56y
Harry Senior (Colin Tizzard/Robbie Power, 4/1, pictured above – far right) looks to be a horse very much going the right way and he was the authoritative winner of the G2 Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle.
The six-year-old was always travelling well and, after taking the lead approaching the final flight, stayed on strongly to deny 6/4 favourite King Roland by two and a quarter lengths.
Colin Tizzard said: “Racing is a funny old world. We were gobsmacked that Slate House couldn’t even complete the course (in the Paddy Power Cotswold Chase) and then this one has come and found, especially when the second swept by like he did. I thought we were playing for second, third or fourth. He is a lovely, big, strong stayer and a good horse on that form.
“He is more of a stayer than Fiddlerontheroof or any of my other novice hurdlers. This one could go up in trip and the rest could go back. I would have thought that we will go for the Albert Bartlett – we haven’t got much else to run in that and this horse looks like a stayer. He got a bit tapped at the bottom of the hill and then stayed on strong.”
Robbie Power commented: “I thought there was fresher ground on the far-side from off the bend. They have been coming up the stands’ rail all winter, so it has got to be better. It’s not ideal to be over there on a green horse because he had a good look around and there is no running rail to help, but he is a real, genuine, good horse.
“We just had a talk and I honestly think that he has Albert Bartlett written all over him, especially if we get nicer ground at The Festival. He is going to improve for nicer ground and has a turn of foot over a trip, so he would strike me as an Albert Bartlett horse all day long.
“Colin has bought some lovely horses last year and it is coming to fruition now. We have a real strong bunch of novice hurdlers – I know some of them are going to clash but I will be doing my best to try and split them all up!”
3:35pm £60,000 galliardhomes.com Cleeve Hurdle (Grade 2) 2m 7f 213y
It was business as usual for Paisley Park (Emma Lavelle/Aidan Coleman, 4/6 Fav) as the eight-year-old landed the G2 galliardhomes.com Cleeve Hurdle for the second year in succession.
It was a seventh consecutive success for Paisley Park and he will now bid to defend his crown in the G1 Paddy Power Stayers’ Hurdle at The Festival, for which he is 10/11 (from 5/4) favourite with the sponsor.
Today’s contest was very simple for Paisley Park. After tracking the leaders, he took the lead approaching the last and was never in any danger as he saw off Summerville Boy by a length and a quarter.
Delighted owner Andrew Gemmell said: “He is a special, special horse. There is something this season that has changed – he hasn’t hit a flat spot so far, which is a great thing, and he has matured. I remember all the great staying hurdlers with great affection and I love that we are even being talked about in those terms.”
Trainer Emma Lavelle commented: “I think it was his best performance. He is just so professional now and his jumping was so slick. He travelled everywhere – he had that flat spot in the split second when he went to quicken but it’s not like it was. He is just growing up and he is a joy.
“He has these magical big ears and, as soon as you see them go forward, you think ‘OK, we are alright now’. I know it was the right decision not to run him at Ascot and I am sorry to disappoint people that we didn’t run, but it was the right decision for him. This sets him up for the Stayers’ Hurdle now.”
Aidan Coleman added: “We didn’t go very quick – this horse is such a good horse, he is not slow – but it was a sprint. Jonny was very good on his horse, because he slowed us up at the point when I thought that he would be going quicker. Paisley Park came down the hill better today but that meant that I was always going to have to get stuck into him when we turned in.
“Usually, I get to the front way sooner and it’s wrong, whereas I got to the front going to the last and thought it was perfect, but he stopped more than he normally does. He is just brilliant – he has gone round there in second gear and then taken the piss up the run-in. Fair play to him. He is an absolute pleasure and I am delighted to be associated with him.”
4:10pm £27,500 Steel Plate and Sections Handicap Hurdle 2m 179y
Festival Trials Day came to a close with a local success for Back On The Lash (Jonathan Burke, 13/2), trained by Martin Keighley at Condicote.
The six-year-old stayed on well after the last to overhaul Lust For Glory by three and a quarter lengths.
Zara Tindall MBE
Equestrian champion and racehorse owner Zara Tindall MBE was out and about at her first Cheltenham raceday since being appointed by The Jockey Club to the Cheltenham Racecourse committee.
Her non-executive role as a committee director is to support the Chairman and executive in the successful operation of the racecourse.
The eldest granddaughter of The Jockey Club’s Patron, Her Majesty The Queen, Tindall is a regular visitor to Cheltenham Racecourse and has owned, bred and pre-trained several racehorses, including horses currently with Cotswold-based trainer, Martin Keighley.
Tindall famously carried the London 2012 Olympic Torch at Cheltenham Racecourse while riding her horse, Toytown. She went on to win an Olympic silver medal in Team Eventing at those home Summer Games. The British public voted Tindall 2006 BBC Sports Personality of the Year after she won gold aboard Toytown at the Eventing World Championships in Aachen. She was appointed MBE in the 2007 New Year Honours for services to equestrianism.
She is married to former England rugby captain and 2003 Rugby World Cup winner, Mike Tindall MBE. The couple live in Gloucestershire with their two daughters.
Zara Tindall MBE said: “I’m passionate about horseracing, particularly on the Jumps side, and the absolute pinnacle of that is Cheltenham. Racing is simply the most exciting sport and it’s open to all. It’s an honour to have been asked by Martin St Quinton on behalf of The Jockey Club to get involved in a more formal capacity and I look forward to doing my bit to support the executive team in the years to come.”