Cheltenham hosted Festival Trials Day on Saturday 26th January in 2019 – the final fixture at the Gloucestershire course before The Festival™ presented by Magners in March – with a hugely informative seven-race card watched by 20,213 racegoers.
As a result of the day’s efforts, Paisley Park, the impressive winner of the G2 galliardhomes.com Cleeve Hurdle, is the new favourite for the G1 Sun Racing Stayers’ Hurdle on 14th March (to buy tickets click here) while Frodon, victorious under Bryony Frost in the feature G2 BetBright Trial Cotswold Chase, is on target for the G1 Magners Cheltenham Gold Cup on 15th March (to buy tickets click here).
12.40pm £32,000 JCB Triumph Hurdle Trial (Grade 2) 2m 179y
Image courtesy of Cheltenham Racecourse.
Joseph O’Brien oversaw Ivanovich Gorbatov’s victory in the 2016 G1 JCB Triumph Hurdle, who was officially trained by father Aidan as his training licence had not come through.
The Irish handler, now having his first official Cheltenham winner, has another leading contender for the four-year-old hurdling championship in Fakir D’Oudairies (4/1), who spread-eagled a classy field under J J Slevin.
The French import, successful in a Cork maiden hurdle on his first run for O’Brien on 5th January, raced a close second to 5/4 favourite Adjali (Nicky Henderson/Daryl Jacob) before going on at the top of the hill.
Fakir D’Oudairies gradually went clear. He put in a good jump at the final flight and powered up the run-in to win by 14 lengths from his stable companion Fine Brunello (Barry Geraghty), with Adjali a further three and a half back in third.
Slevin said: “Fakir D’Oudairies had a good win at Cork the last day and has obviously come on for it. He has loads of experience from his time in France and that was a good performance.
“It’s a G2 and we didn’t hang around – we went a nice, even gallop – and my horse travelled very comfortably and jumped very well. He stuck at it very well – I didn’t realise I had won by so far, but he did it very well.
“I would say that he would be better with a bit of juice in the ground, but it is a long way from being winter ground out there. He handled it fine and I am sure he will be fine on the ground in the spring.
“None of Joseph’s four-year-olds have run against each other, so we don’t know what we have. There are plenty of them at home and hopefully it will be an exciting few months ahead.”
Daryl Jacob, on board Adjali, reported: “Adjali has run well. The Irish horses seem to be the best juveniles, but I think we might see a better Adjali at The Festival in March.”
1.15pm £27,500 Timeform Novices’ Handicap Chase 2m 4f 127y
Kildisart (9/2) continued his upward curve over fences as he followed up victory in an Ascot graduation chase in December with another comfortable win for trainer Ben Pauling, jockey Daryl Jacob and owners Simon Munir and Isaac Souede.
Highway One O One (Chris Gordon/Tom Cannon) set a strong gallop with a bold round of jumping and still held the advantage as Azzerti (Alan King/Richard Johnson) took a heavy fall three fences from home.
Kildisart, who made a couple of minor jumping errors down the back, moved up to second soon after and stayed on head the long-time leader jumping the last before drifting and idling up the hill to beat Highway One O One by two lengths.
Ben Pauling commented: “Kildisart is by no means the finished article – he made a couple of mistakes – but he is an amazing horse. He almost looked as though he was flat out early doors and then he comes there travelling towards the end, which is really nice to see.
“He is becoming quite a nice horse and is going the right way, which is really good to see. I would be hopeful that there would be more to come as he is a work in progress but each day is a good day at the moment with this horse, so we are happy.
“They went an end-to-end gallop and Daryl said beforehand that he thought Highway One O One was the one to beat. Daryl gave the horse an impeccable ride, which was great.
“Kildisart will probably be back here in March for something. He was rated 141 and I wouldn’t have thought that he would go up any more than 4lb, so he will probably go for the Close Brothers Novices’ Handicap Chase in March if stays in the 0–145 bracket.
“He has an entry in the JLT Novices’ Chase as well and I will have to discuss that with Anthony Bromley (advisor to Simon Munir and Isaac Souede). He is a nice horse.”
Daryl Jacob added: “Kildisart is a progressing horse who has done it nicely there again.
“We wanted a bit of course form today, just to see whether he would handle the track or would be better off going to Aintree, and he has proved that he handles it. There are a few more options for him now.
“It’s a different track to what he encountered before and it’s all a good part of his learning.
“I thought Tom (Cannon) went a nice, even gallop from the front – myself and Harry Skelton were having a nice chat the whole way down the back straight – and it rode like a good race.”
1.50pm £75,000Spectra Cyber Security Solutions Trophy Handicap Chase (Grade 3) 2m 4f 127y
Siruh Du Lac (6/1) completed a hat-trick of handicap chase victories when rallying strongly to deny Janika in a thrilling finish.
The Nick Williams-trained six-year-old was always at the head of affairs under Lizzie Kelly and repelled the challenges of Activial (Tom George/Tom Scudamore) and Ballyhill (Nigel Twiston-Davies/Jordan Naylor) turning for home.
The 5/2 favourite Janika (Daryl Jacob/Nicky Henderson) travelled well into the race and hit the front with an economical jump at the final fence, but Siruh Du Lac rallied up the run-in to regain the advantage near the line and hold on by a head. The first two finished nine lengths clear of Ballyhill in third of the 11 runners.
Devon-based trainer Nick Williams commented: “I thought that this might be a step too far as we had been going for lesser races at lesser tracks, but we felt that Siruh Du Lac was ready to take on an open handicap.
“He is a hugely impressive jumper, he always has been, but I didn’t think that we would get back up. It was a huge relief and we have won a few races here by very tight margins.
“We will have to see how he is before deciding whether to come back here in March. He doesn’t take a lot of racing – he has only had three or four starts each year – and he needs a gap between his races.
“We have given him six weeks before running here today and it’s seven until The Festival, so we will have a look at it.”
Lizzie Kelly said: “Siruh Du Lac is a lot of fun because his jumping is brilliant. He was so good that we sent him chasing at four and he is formidable.
“Today was the first day that he has actually been headed in a finish but he has come back and really dug deep. I was really impressed.
“I thought that was it when Janika headed us – I was going through the motions and thought ‘Bloody hell, we are coming back again’. Thank God, it was just in time.
“I think Siruh Du Lac is a horse with a good future and I love the fact that we have done everything very much going up the ladder slowly. This is the hardest race he has had and, every time he runs, he runs a good race.
“His jumping is so good and he gets himself into the right position in his races because he is so quick over the first couple of fences. You are never having to push him along to get where you want to be.”
Casse Tete broke a leg on the flat between fences and was humanely put down.
2.25pm £100,000 BetBright Trial Cotswold Chase (Grade Two) 3m 1f 56y
Frodon (9/4) recorded a fourth victory at Cheltenham with another tremendous front-running performance to set up a tilt at the G1 Magners Cheltenham Gold Cup.
The Paul Nicholls-trained seven-year-old, stepping up in distance after taking the G3 Caspian Caviar Gold Cup Handicap Chase over an extended two and a half miles for the second time at The International in December, was sent to the front of the six runners by regular jockey Bryony Frost and the duo kicked on approaching the penultimate fence.
Terrefort (Nicky Henderson/Daryl Jacob) briefly looked set to challenge nearing the last, but Frodon found more in front to win gamely by three quarters of a length from 2/1 favourite Elegant Escape (Colin Tizzard/Tom O’Brien), who stayed on well after looking outpaced at the top of the hill.
It was a fifth victory for Nicholls in the BetBright Trial Cotswold Chase, with the 10-time champion Jump trainer having also sent out See More Business (1998 & 2001), Taranis (2010) and Neptune Collonges (2011) to victory.
Somerset-based Nicholls said: “Frodon is such a genuine horse.
“He just got a little tired from the back of the last today and it was a bit of a combination of idling and tiredness. Bryony felt that he might have blown up a little bit and idled up the hill, but it was a brilliant performance.
“I was slightly nervous. It is so hard training them when they have had a tough time to give them a break and try to get them back fit enough to win like today.
“Whatever he has done today, he is going to improve for the run just because he has had a break. This has proved to us that he stays and I would say that we have to go for the Gold Cup with him.
“He is rated 169 now and that would have been good enough to finish second in the Gold Cup last year. It suits him going a bit slower because he can jump as well and, if I can get a bit more improvement out of him, he could well run into the frame.
“I always thought that he probably would stay. In a lot of his races, he is always flat out and I felt that he might get the chance to use his jumping over further and be able to dominate from the front.
“We have never really worked him with Clan Des Obeaux and they are just two really good horses. Clan Des Obeaux is obviously improving rapidly in everything he has done – he was very good at Kempton – and Frodon loves Cheltenham, which is a massive plus. I don’t think there is too much between them, to be honest.”
Bryony Frost commented: “Frodon is so brave, the whole heart is in there for you. He is braver than me. We needed the last two jumps – we were getting tired, the spitting rain was getting into the ground and he was giving weight to all of them.
“We all knew that the trip could be in his reach. But then there is always that little bit of ‘OK, you’re a year older but can you do it?’ – me and him out there is the best buzz you could ever live for.
“I am the mad woman – he knows what he is doing and I just sit there and steer. Mr and Mrs Vogt (owners) – the day that they kept me on Frodon after I lost my claim, that’s just loyalty beyond words. Being in Paul’s yard and all the team, look how much it means to us all.
“This is what I strive for – what I live for – to have him during my career, I cannot say.
“You cannot go out there and think your horse is not going to stay. Today is Trials Day and so we had to come here today to see if he stayed.
“We wanted to ride him exactly the same because we don’t want to be holding him up. He has answered every question.
“If anything, he pricked his ears coming up the home straight. The crowd started roaring and I knew something I knew someone was chasing me down and my voice got very loud on Frodon and I started telling him to come on and get a wiggle on. Luckily, he did.
“It is mad – I have got a ride in the Gold Cup maybe. That would be a dream and who dares to dream – sometimes fortune favours the brave. But I have got to get there first and he has to get there in March.
“But I have got the team behind me, I have the most loyal owners going, I have the bravest horse and one of the most clever trainers in England and Ireland. So I am doing all right.
“Everyone here is unbelievable I cannot thank them enough for their support down the shute. I told him, this is all for you mate.”
Elegant Escape’s trainer Colin Tizzard remarked: “It was a very competitive race and, if we are nit-picking, Elegant Escape was slightly lost for pace a little bit out in the country.
“Frodon is a lovely horse but Elegant Escape has stayed on and he will go for the Gold Cup, which is quite often a race for sloggers. It was only 30 days since he ran in the Welsh National – I am not using that as an excuse at all – but he has six weeks now until the Gold Cup.
“He made up four lengths after the last and there is still everything to play for. It was competitive today and a good trial for the Gold Cup. It tested every horse and we have come out of it staying on.
“There is not much between any of the Gold Cup horses, to be fair – Thistlecrack, Native River and this horse – but there are about 10 others ones as well.
“There is no outstanding one at the moment and they could all win on a given day. We just want to get there in one piece and try to enjoy it.”
3.00pm £32,000 Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle (Grade 2) 2m 4f 56y
Image courtesy of Cheltenham Racecourse.
Birchdale (2/1), trained by Nicky Henderson, capitalised on Brewin’Upastorm’s fall at the final flight to maintain his unbeaten record with a wide-margin success.
It was a landmark 1,875th success for Barry Geraghty, who moved up to fourth on the list of most successful jockeys ever in Britain and Ireland.
The 6/4 favourite Brewin’Upastorm (Olly Murphy/Richard Johnson) led the five-strong field from the off and still held a narrow advantage when falling at the last, leaving Birchdale in front to come home 18 lengths clear of Buster Valentine (Ruth Jefferson/Leighton Aspell).
Lambourn-based Nicky Henderson said: “You never like to see that and it was going to be a good race. I am sure that both jockeys will say that they would have won – you can take that for granted!
“Birchdale is only a baby but is doing his job nicely. He is a talented youngster. The form of his Warwick win has worked out well but I thought that he was just a bit green throughout the race today – he was on and off it a little bit but jumped very well.
“I was originally going to come here with Champ but there was no point as he didn’t need another race. They are both really Ballymore horses and it was really sorting the pack out a little bit.
“I do like this horse a lot but it was only the second hurdle race of his life, so he will have learned a lot today.”
Barry Geraghty added: “We will never know who would have won, but I think there wouldn’t have been a lot in it.
“I was getting there on a baby, who lacked experience, but I was getting there. I was happy enough and coming with a good challenge, but it was simplified anyway.
“It was only his second racecourse run, but he did everything you would like through the race. Dickie (Richard Johnson) brought a good gallop and was finding us out – we knew that we were in a good battle and we were going to have to work hard to beat him.
“Birchdale hasn’t the experience compared to Champ and would have learned a lot today. He is a little baby but you have to love him.”
3.35pm £60,000 galliardhomes.com Cleeve Hurdle (Grade 2) 2m 7f 213y
Image courtesy of Cheltenham Racecourse.
Paisley Park (10/3 Fav) confirmed himself as the leading British-trained contender for the G1 Sun Bets Stayers’ Hurdle as he routed the opposition to record a fourth victory in as many starts this season.
The seven-year-old, who provided trainer Emma Lavelle with a first G1 win when taking the JLT Hurdle at Ascot in December, travelled in mid-field of the 12 runners as Lil Rockerfeller (Neil King, Bryony Frost) and Sam Spinner (Jedd O’Keeffe/Joe Colliver) disputed the running.
Paisley Park ran on strongly between horses to take up the running for Aidan Coleman approaching the final flight and readily stormed clear, going on to win by 12 lengths from West Approach (Colin Tizzard/Tom Scudamore), with two lengths back to third home Black Op (Tom George/Noel Fehily) in the 12-strong field.
Emma Lavelle, who stables are in Wiltshire, said of her stable star: “It was amazing. Paisley Park was so impressive and I couldn’t be more thrilled for everybody – it’s exciting, really exciting.
“He was a very sick horse after his bumper run and last year was definitely about getting over all of that and getting stronger with another summer of grass.
“My husband Barry (Fenton) has been riding him every day and he has done an amazing job because he has instilled so much confidence in the horse, who has just got better and better. Paisley Park has just got so much more professional about it.
“Andrew Gemmell (owner) is such a massive supporter of racing and us in particular. It couldn’t happen to a nicer person. He is a humbling man and I am thrilled for him.”
Aidan Coleman said: “I know this horse really well but, coming down the hill to two out, I thought ‘Jeez, what is going on here?’
“He does travel a little bit behind the bridle, which is why he finishes his races so well, but I have given him a squeeze coming off the bend.
“I knew as soon I had done it that it was the biggest mistake I could have made because I was there literally a furlong too soon. You could see his ears were pricked the whole way up the run-in and it was a good job that he kept going and got me out of trouble.”
Winning owner Andrew Gemmell, who has been blind from birth, commented: “I can’t believe it – it’s fantastic and has surpassed my expectations.
“After his first couple of runs, Paisley Park was seriously ill and it was touch and go whether he would survive. He has come back and is just growing into himself.
“It’s only 47 days until the Stayers’ Hurdle and we cannot wait. I was supposed to be at the tennis in Australia this week, but coming here instead was the best decision I have made in a while.”
4.10pm £27,500 Steel Plate & Sections Handicap Hurdle 2m 179y
Local trainer Fergal O’Brien landed the closing race with Benny’s Bridge (8/1), who quickened well from the rear under Paddy Brennan to beat 3/1 favourite Flash The Steel (Dan Skelton/Harry Skelton) by two and three quarter lengths, despite racing from 1lb out of the handicap.
Photos by Ian Yates and Cheltenham Racecourse.