With just 46 days to go until Cheltenham Festival, all eyes are on the runners trying to show they have what it takes to face each other on ‘The Greatest Show On Turf’. Being the last race day at Cheltenham before the Festival, Trials Day gathers thousands of racegoers together to see possible Festival runners in the run up to the biggest week of the National Hunt calendar.
A spray of mist slowly impeded on the course upon arrival, with the risk of rain in the air. For jumps racing this isn’t considered a bad thing; soft ground is heavily favoured as most National Hunt horses revel in this.
Including horses and connections, there always seems to be a special connection between jumps fans and Cheltenham. I spoke to Tom Williams, a keen equine photographer and racegoer, “Cheltenham means the absolute world to any jump racing fan, simply because it is the Theatre of Dreams. You look at the many illustrious horses that have raced the turf here; Golden Miller, Arkle, Sprinter Sacre, Kauto Star, Denman, the list goes on. The first time I came here, for the Paddy Power, now The Betvictor Gold Cup, and the second I walked out of the stand and saw the course for the first time, it blew my mind”.
Sunlight fought through the clouds just in time for the start of the first race, the 12:40 JCB Triumph Trial Juvenile Hurdle. As the flag was raised, Adjali went off as clear favourite; however, it was 4/1 Fakir D-Oudairies who came out as the clear winner for Irish trainer Joseph O’Brien and jockey JJ Slevin. “He seems to be a nice horse. I kept squeezing him down to the last. He’s very versatile, not keen. Coming from France, he’d done a lot of schooling and galloping from a young age. They’re definitely ahead of us on the schooling” JJ relayed.
Unfortunately the rain couldn’t stay away, as the 1:15 Timeform Novices Handicap Steeple Chase runners set off, the rain began to fall again. Kildisart won for jockey Daryl Jacob and local trainer, Ben Pauling. When I asked Ben if it meant more to have a local winner, as he trains in Bourton On The Water in the Cotswolds, he stated “A huge amount more. Driving in this morning, it was only 10 years ago I was coming here as a young man who adored his racing, and to come here and have winners is really special”.
Above: Kildisart after winning The Timeform Novices Handicap Steeple Chase.
2:25 saw the flag raised for the 2019 renewal of the £100,000 Cotswold Chase; previous winners including Smad Place in 2016 and Definitely Red under Danny Cook last year for trainer Brian Ellison. Fan Favourite Many Clouds won in both 2015 & again in 2017, which was unfortunately tinged with bittersweet sadness as he heartbreakingly collapsed and passed away after winning.
Bryony Frost on board Frodon for Paul Nicholls had the crowd captivated from the very start–eliciting the famous Cheltenham roar as the duo successfully flew over the last in a manner that could only be described as sensational.
“I’ve never ridden a horse like him” Bryony emotionally says. “You can see how brave he is, how awesome he is. He’s just the most amazing horse, and he answers me every time. The people in the crowd cheering him on, it’s incredible the amount of support me and the horse have. He’s a proper horse. You can never predict whats going to happen, it’s Trials Day, we had to go and try him.” Bryony exuded pride, and it was no surprise. Frodon is most certainly a special horse, and the bond they have together is incredible.
The Ballymore Novices Hurdle saw previous Cheltenham winner Jarveys Plate, who won here on New Years Day, and 2 from 2 winner Birchdale, and popular Brewin’Upastorm just part of the line up. Brewin’Upastorm was travelling strongly, until he unfortunately fell; thankfully, both horse and jockey escaped unscathed, and it was Birchdale that came out victorious, ridden by Barry Geraghty.
“You never like to see it under circumstances like that” he told us in reference to Brewin’Upastorm’s fall.
Above: Birchdale, lead up by Tom Britten.
It was impossible not to be compelled by the thrilling line up in the penultimate race of the day, the Cleeve Hurdle, with Lil Rockerfeller, Unowhatimeanharry and favourite Paisley Park, who last month gave Aidan Coleman and Emma Lavelle their first Grade One winner at Ascot amongst the stream of runners.
Lil Rockerfeller led prominently from the beginning, however it was the sensational Paisley Park that crossed the line first, giving trainer Emma her fourth consecutive win on him in just as many months. “The improvement he’s had from his first run is massive. The jump he’s taken every time has been exceptional, today has been by far his best performance and that’s after winning a Grade One. If you take West Approach as a bench mark you know the difference is massive. Hopefully it can continue!”. The Stayers Hurdle looks to be his next destination.
The final, but by no means the least important race of the day, The Steel Plate and sections Handicap Hurdle was won in an impressive fashion by Paddy Brennan for Cotswolds trainer, Fergal O’Brien. On the run In to the finishing post, he fought back to effortlessly glide past his rivals to win at 8/1, beating favourite Flash The Steel, trained by Dan Skelton and ridden by sibling Harry Skelton.
After a truly fantastic and exciting day of racing, all tracks lead up to the Cheltenham Festival, where no doubt we will be thrilled by much more of from the talent witnessed today.