As the fog continued to descend over Cleeve Hill in the background of Cheltenham Racecourse, the, racegoers made their way into the course for Festival Trials Day – the last meeting before the world renowned Cheltenham Festival and for a preparation run, entirely consisting of National Hunt (jumps racing) over hurdles and fences.
The bleak weather didn’t put off the racegoers turning up in their thousands and at 12:40, the flag was raised for the first race of the day and the famous ‘Cheltenham Roar’ echoed around the stands. It wasn’t a day for favourites, as only two out of the seven races saw a favourite reign victorious over their competitors.
Galahad Quest, priced at 6/1, beat favourite Monte Cristo in the Triumph Hurdle Trial and 22/1 shot, Night Edition for David Pipe and David Noonan placed second in the race.
Aptly named Simply The Betts clinched the second race of the day, The Novices Handicap Steeplechase for trainer Henry Whittington and jockey Gavin Sheehan; when asked whether The Marsh Chase would be next for the winner, Harry told us;
“It depends on how much he goes up in the weights. We’ll stay in both races (The Grade 1 Novices Chase on Wednesday 11th March & The Marsh Novices Chase on Thursday 12th March of The Festival) and keep all options open. He stayed well today – we want to have the Close Brothers option (The Centenary Novices Handicap Chase on Thursday 12th Match of The Festival) but it depends on the handicapper!”
Cepage took the third race for trainer/jockey combination Venetia Williams and Charlie Deutsch; Venetia provided her insights into the next movements for Cepage; “He ran at a good pace and his jumping didn’t let him down. As the other horses came to him, it helped him having the competition. We’ve got race options, he’s entered in the Gold Cup and the Ryanair. Aso goes to the Ryanair so he’s only likely to consider the Ryanair if something goes amiss with the other horse.”
Unfortunately, Warthog sustained an injury during the race and had to be put to sleep; our thoughts are with all connections. It goes without saying that these horses are very well loved and it is heartbreaking when anything happens to them.
Favourite for the Grade 2 Cotswold Chase, Santini, showed his class in beating his five fellow opponents on the track, including the fan favourite Bristol De Mai and Topville Ben.
Nicky Henderson, trainer of Santini gave a brilliant run down of the horse following the race;
“He ran 200% better today. He was quarterized after his last race, but I don’t think that had a lot to do with it to be honest. This horse absolutely lives and thrives on work, the more you can get into him, the better he becomes. He’s always been the same. When you can’t train him, he becomes the other way again. There’s more to come from him. Considering the race he ran in the RSA last year I’d say yes, he likes the track; I wouldn’t say he dislikes Sandown but he was sloppy and it was early in the year and he wasn’t wound up and he hadn’t done a lot with him.
We’ve just got to get a good run in now, get lucky and get the prep in. Bristol (De Mai) is a great benchmark , he’s solid and got away from him. I was underwhelmed with him at Sandown and I admitted it there and then. There was no saying that was fantastic because it was not! We’ve had to go back and start again. The better the ground the better he’ll be, the ground today was not his ground; he’s a beautiful mover and he’s a big big boy but I can’t tell you how much work he takes.”
The field for the fifth race of the day, the Class 1 Novices Hurdle race set off at 3:00pm and Harry Senior for the Colin Tizzard beat favourite King Rowland to be first past the post with Robbie Power aboard in the Brocade Racing colours.
Paisley Park continued his fairytale for trainer Emma Lavelle, jockey Aidan Coleman and owner Andrew Gemmell in the Grade 2 Cleeve Hurdle. Revelling after the winner, Emma Lavelle was all smiles and positivity following Paisley’s run, she gave an insightful interview which portrayed just how much the horse means to her and everyone connected to him;
“I just love those ears going forward, I’m like okay! I think he was as professional today as he’s been, he’s definitely getting better. He’s brilliant, the pressure in a way going in with everyone rooting for him and you just want to deliver and he loves it and we’re loving having him.
He’s not a slow horse himself, he’s a stayer but he’s got pace, so if I’m honest after watching that I probably enjoyed that more than the other races I’ve watched with him. We knew we had him in good shape and it was obviously going to take a good one to beat him and that’s going to be the case, but there’s always a degree of just get to the end and get across the line. If he’s at the front and something comes to him you just know it’s going to make him go quicker. He’s now getting to the front and his ears go forwards and he just does enough.
When you’re standing there and watching him go around, even at the yard a lot of the lads and girls are all coming up and taking pictures of him and I just think that is what racing does best, when you’ve got a really good horse that’s turning up each time and that’s what I love about racing.
It was the right decision to miss Ascot, I’m not saying the ground here was easy ground but it was definitely testing, it was going to be easier here on this ground than it would have been going to Ascot on that ground. He carried the weight penalty and I know The Cap Fits did too and I think it was a proper test today, new horses up against him and look he’s come through the test well.
The next few weeks before the Festival we’ll get back into the routine with him, probably a bit of cotton wool wrapped around him and patting him on the nose every morning!
Local trainer Martin Keighley concluded the day with the winner for the Class 2 Handicap Hurdle with Back On The Lash and with just enough time to spare as the fog swallowed the course and darkness began to set in on what was a fantastic day of racing.
We will be back at Cheltenham Racecourse in March to cover the all four days of The Festival!