In recent years, Festival Trials Day has more than lived up to its billing with 16 runners over the last five years going on to win at Cheltenham in March.
Those figures illustrate that this is a day that matters.
The irony, however, is that today’s feature, the Grade Two Paddy Power Cotswold Chase, is not a race that produces Festival winners with Looks Like Trouble the last horse to win this Gold Cup trial en route to victory in the Blue Riband itself. And that was back in 2000.
Nor is it a race for favourites, Cyfor Malta being the last to deliver back in 1999.
Those stats spell bad news for Santini.
Today’s likely favourite has long been considered a Gold Cup horse in the making and if that is to remain a realistic aspiration he has to go close today.
Victorious over hurdles at this meeting two years ago, Nicky Henderson’s charge went on to finish third in the Albert Bartlett six weeks later.
He again had to settle for minor honours at last year’s Festival but finishing second to Topofthegame in the RSA Chase was a cracking effort given Santini had a nightmare build-up to that race.
That marked him out as a horse to follow this season but he has only been seen once, scrambling home in unconvincing fashion to beat the limited Now McGinty by a head at Sandown in November.
He looked anything but the second coming that day but has since undergone wind surgery and Henderson is confident we’ll see a very different animal today.
He’ll need to be but given the history of this race — even the great Dawn Run came unstuck in it — he has to be opposed.
The question is with whom?
If Slate House can put together a clear round of jumping he’ll be a big player as Colin Tizzard’s novice has a serious engine.
On his last visit to Cheltenham, he paid the price for one jumping error too many when falling two fences from home when looking the likely winner of the BetVictor Gold Cup.
He has since won twice, most recently when scoring at Grade One level at Kempton over Christmas when he travelled like a dream between fences but was far from convincing when asked to jump them.
The star potential is definitely there but whether he’s quite ready for this company is open to question.
That being the case, preference is for Bristol De Mai.
Most of his best efforts may have come at Haydock but he proved he can perform to a high level at Cheltenham when third to Al Boum Photo in last year’s Gold Cup.
He surrendered his unbeaten record at his beloved Haydock on his only start this season but there was little shame in a length and a half defeat to Lostintranslation, a horse who remains a leading Gold Cup contender despite subsequently fluffing his lines in the King George.
If Bristol De Mai can perform to that level, he should prove hard to beat.
Elsewhere at Cheltenham, Paisley Park faces an intriguing new rival in If The Cap Fits in the Grade Two Cleeve Hurdle.
If The Cap Fits ended last season by winning a Grade One over three miles at Aintree and beat Call Me Lord over a shorter trip at Ascot on his sole start this season.
He looks the most credible threat to Paisley Park’s Stayers’ Hurdle crown but Emma Lavelle’s charge has won his last six starts and can rise to this latest challenge.
The Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle looks pretty competitive but Harry Senior looked a horse going places whenwinning decisively at Chepstow over Christmas and can confirm that impression by following up today.
The Grade Three Paddy Power 45 Sleeps To Cheltenham Trophy Handicap Chase brings together last month’s Caspian Caviar Gold Cup first and second but Warthog and Spiritofthegames were both out of their feet at the finish so it may be worth chancing the fresher Count Meribel.
The Nigel Twiston-Davies-trained eight-year-old was only two lengths behind Lostintranslation at Carlisle on his seasonal reappearance and lost a shoe when sixth in the BetVictor on his only start since.
With the stable in fine form, it’ll be no great surprise if he goes close.
Doncaster’s feature is the Sky Bet Handicap Chase and Ladbrokes Trophy fifth Dingo Dollar looks the right favourite and likeliest winner.
Elsewhere on Town Moor, Champagne Well can end Boss Man Fred’s unbeaten record by landing the Grade TwoAlbert Bartlett River Don Novices’ Hurdle while Lady Buttons should be hard to beat in the Grade Two Albert Bartlett River Don Novices’ Hurdle.
- Count Meribel (Each-way)
- Champagne Well
- Bristol De Mai (NB)
- Lady Buttons
- Harry Senior (Nap)
- Dingo Dollar
- Paisley Park