Festival favourites: Brilliant novice chaser Thistlecrack and top staying hurdler Unowhatimeanharry feature among a host of stars set to run at Cheltenham on Festival Trials Day on Saturday 28th January.
Festival Trials Day is the last fixture at the Home of Jump Racing before The Festival (Tuesday 14th March to Friday 17th March inclusive).
A terrific nine-race programme also includes the £70,000 Clarence House Chase (1.45pm, 2m ½f), which has been rescheduled following the abandonment of Ascot on Saturday 21st January.
The Clarence House Chase is now sponsored at Cheltenham by Spectra Group. Simon Davies, CEO, Spectra Group (UK) Ltd, commented: “Spectra Cyber Security Solutions is delighted to be sponsoring the rescheduled Grade One Spectra – Cyber Security Solutions Clarence House Chase at Cheltenham this Saturday. The race is always competitive as two-mile chasers complete their preparations ahead of The Festival and, as this is Spectra’s first sponsorship at the Home of Jump Racing, I am really looking forward to Saturday.”
Ian Renton, Regional Director of the South West region of The Jockey Club, added: “I am delighted that we have been able to work with the BHA to reschedule the Clarence House Chase to Cheltenham on Saturday as part of Festival Trials Day and that Spectra Group will be sponsoring the race, the first sponsorship under this brand.”
Thistlecrack headlines 11 entries for the £100,000 G2 BetBright Trial Cotswold Chase (2.15pm, 3m 1½f) and the Colin Tizzard-trained nine-year-old, unbeaten in four races as a novice chaser, is out to cement his position at the head of the market for the Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup at The Festival in March.
Impressive in the G1 Sun Bets Stayers’ Hurdle at The Festival in March, Thistlecrack has made a sensational start to his career over fences, including when becoming the first novice to win the G1 32 Red King George VI Chase at Kempton Park on 26th December.
The last two winners of the BetBright Trial Cotswold Chase have also been entered. Many Clouds (Oliver Sherwood) was successful in 2015 before going on to glory in the Randox Health Grand National three months later, while last year’s victor Smad Place (Alan King) could make his first start since finishing seventh in the Hennessy Gold Cup in November – a race he won in 2015.
The BetBright Trial Cotswold Chase is set to see a challenger from France this year in Vezelay (Emmanuel Clayeux). The eight-year-old made a promising British debut when third behind Cue Card and Coneygree in the G1 Betfair Chase at Haydock Park on 19th November.
A winner at G2 level in his homeland, Vezelay was also a close third in the 2015 renewal of the G1 Prix La Haye Jousselin at Auteuil. There has been one French-trained winner of the BetBright Trial Cotswold Chase, with Jair Du Cochet successful in 2004.
Clayeux, who is based near Moulins in central France, said: “The plan is bring Vezelay to Cheltenham on Saturday for Festival Trials Day. He is currently entered in both the BetBright Trial Cotswold Chase and the Hugo’s Restaurant Barbados Trophy Handicap Chase, with the plan currently being to go for the Grade Two race.
“I thought his run at Haydock Park was not too bad and we want to give him a run at Cheltenham, before hopefully coming back for The Festival in March.”
Vezelay currently holds entries for both the Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup and the Ryanair Chase at The Festival.
Clayeux continued: “We will see how he gets on this weekend and that should tell us what we do next with him. The better ground he is likely to face at Cheltenham on Saturday should suit him well.
“I have also made two entries for the Glenfarclas Cross Country Handicap Chase (Unbrin de L’Isle and Urgent de Gregaine). I don’t think either of them has a great chance but Vezelay does not like travelling alone, so he will need a companion to come over with.”
Kylemore Lough (Kerry Lee) was successful in a G1 novices’ chase at Fairyhouse last year, while Shantou Flyer (Rebecca Curtis) may bid for another major prize at Cheltenham this season after winning the G3 BetBright Best For Festival Betting Handicap Chase on New Year’s Day.
Paul Nicholls, the most successful trainer in the BetBright Trial Cotswold Chase with four victories, has entered seven-time G1 winner Silviniaco Conti, Scottish Grand National victor Vicente and Le Mercurey.
Regal Encore (Anthony Honeyball), a Listed handicap chase at Ascot in December, and Perfect Candidate (Fergal O’Brien), who was beaten a nose in the G3 Unicoin Group Handicap Chase at The International, complete the BetBright Trial Cotswold Chase.
Like Thistlecrack, Unowhatimeanharry is also trying to extend a remarkable winning sequence in the £60,000 G2 galliardhomes.com Cleeve Hurdle (4.00pm, 3m).
The nine-year-old has racked up eight consecutive wins for trainer Harry Fry including victories in the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle at The Festival in March and Ascot’s JLT Long Walk Hurdle on his latest outing in December. He is currently the favourite with the sponsor for the Sun Bets Stayers’ Hurdle at The Festival.
His 14 potential rivals in the Galliardhomes.com Cleeve Hurdle include Ballyoptic (Nigel Twiston-Davies), who fell at the final flight in the JLT Long Walk Hurdle, plus Un Temps Pour Tout (David Pipe) and Ptit Zig (Paul Nicholls), who were third and fourth in the same race.
The 2015 Stayers’ Hurdle winner Cole Harden (Warren Greatrex) and Kotkikova (Nicky Henderson), a prolific winner in France, have also been engaged.
The opening £30,000 G2 JCB Triumph Hurdle Trial (12.00pm, 2m 1f) could see a clash between the current market leaders for the G1 JCB Triumph Hurdle at The Festival, with impressive Kempton Park scorer Charli Parcs (Nicky Henderson) and G1 Finale Juvenile Hurdle winner Defi Du Seuil (Philip Hobbs) featuring among 11 entries.
Further G2 novice action is provided by the £30,000 Neptune Investment Management Classic Novices’ Hurdle (3.25pm, 2m 4 ½f), which has 15 entries including Wholestone (Nigel Twiston-Davies), successful in the G2 Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle at The International in December, and the unbeaten Kimberlite Candy (Tom Lacey).
Uxizandre (Alan King), who captured the Ryanair Chase at The Festival in 2015, may make his first appearance since that victory in the £60,000 Hugo’s Restaurant Barbados Trophy Handicap Chase (1.10pm, 2m 5f).
Annacotty (Alan King) and Ballynagour (David Pipe) have both won major handicap chases over the same course and distance, while BetBright Trial Cotswold Chase contenders Shantou Flyer, Kylemore Lough, Vezelay and Regal Encore could also line up.
Cantlow (Enda Bolger IRE) could bid for a second consecutive victory on Cheltenham’s Cross Country Course in the £25,000 Glenfarclas Cross Country Handicap Chase (2.50pm, 3m 6f), which has been re-scheduled from The Open in November.
The 15 entries also include 2014 Stayers’ Hurdle victor More Of That (Jonjo O’Neill), G2 Clonmel Oil Chase winner Ilelchi Inois (Willie Mullins IRE) and Cross Country veteran Any Currency (Martin Keighley) plus the Emmanuel Clayeux-trained pair of Unbrin De L’Isle and Urgent De Gregaine.
A total of 29 contenders for the £25,000 Timeform Novices’ Handicap Chase (12.35pm, 2m 5f) include Singlefarmpayment (Tom George), who took a novices’ chase at The International, G2 runner-up Rock The Kasbah (Philip Hobbs) and Ibis Du Rheu (Paul Nicholls), successful in the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle at The Festival in March.
Racing concludes with the £25,000 Steel Plate And Sections Handicap Hurdle (4.35pm, 2m 1f), which has attracted 32 entries including last season’s G1 Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle fourth Tombstone (Gordon Elliott IRE).
Order of Running
Time Race Distance Prize Money
12.00pm • JCB Triumph Hurdle Trial (Grade 2) • 2m 179y • £30,000
12.35pm • Timeform Novices’ Handicap Chase • 2m 4f 166y • £25,000
1.10pm • Hugo’s Restaurant Barbados Trophy Handicap Chase (Grade 3) • 2m 4f 166y • £60,000
1.45pm • Spectra – Cyber Security Solutions Clarence House Chase (Grade 1) • 2m 62y • £70,000
2.15pm • BetBright Trial Cotswold Chase (Grade 2) • 3m 1f 56y • £100,000
2.50pm • Glenfarclas Cross Country Handicap Chase • 3m 6f 37y • £25,000
3.25pm • Neptune Investment Management Novices’ Hurdle (Grade 2) • 2m 4f 56y • £30,000
4.00pm • Galliardhomes.com Cleeve Hurdle (Grade 2) • 2m 7f 213y • £60,000
4.35pm • Steel Plate & Sections Handicap Hurdle • 2m 179y • £25,000