Cheltenham Trials Day – The key races analysed

Aidan Coleman is relishing the chance to get back on Paisley Park before the Festival.

Cheltenham Trials Day

Christopher Loader attended Cheltenham Trials day. Here’s his take on the horses staking their claims for the 2020 Cheltenham Festival

It was gloomy and cold on Cheltenham Trials Day but the afternon was brightened up with some equine stars on show and Festival Clues on offer.

Surely the first place to start is with the performance of Santini, who became the first favourite to win the Cotswold Chase since 1999. Before the race, there were doubts about the eight-year-old with question marks over his seasonal return at Sandown in November, when his trainer Nicky Henderson admitted that he had been lacklustre despite getting the better of Now McGinty.

He proved his critics wrong and beat a fair yardstick in Bristol De Mai who finished third in last year’s Cheltenham Gold Cup. Henderson stated that he was “200% better” than his Sandown run and he now thinks he has a huge chance in the 2020 Gold Cup.

Nevertheless, I wasn’t totally blown away with Santini and, when it comes to March, I would rather watch the conditions as he will want testing ground. The likes of Al Boum Photo, Kemboy and Clan Des Obeaux are classier types, but the son of Milan remains on my shortlist for the feature race of the Festival.

The other leading light on display was fan favourite Paisley Park, who retained his title in the Cleeve Hurdle. There was very little to worry about for trainer Emma Lavelle as the reigning Stayers Hurdle champion hit his usual flat spot before delivering the extra gear his rivals struggle to live with. He cemented his place as the banker of the Cheltenham Festival and looks like he can dominate the division once again.

Paisley Park just has a loveable way when he pricks his ears, he connects with fans and the applause he received was the loudest of any horse returning to the winner’s enclosure. The only fly in the ointment to him retaining the Stayers’ Hurdle will be if Benie Des Dieux turns up. She was very impressive on her return in the Galmoy Hurdle at Gowran Park last week and could be a massive danger with the mares’ allowance.

Elsewhere on the card, there were some eyecatchers for the Festival in six weeks’ timw. The race that interested me most was the Ballymore Trial, which has thrown up superstars down the years. The winner, Harry Senio,r was very game and impressive as he strongly stayed up the famous Cheltenham hill, and he could be a serious Albert Bartlett contender. His trainer Colin Tizzard stated he will not run again before March. King Roland who finished second in that race travelled very strongly and connections would have learned a lot. I’d like to see him played late in the Ballymore against Envoi Allen, but his trainerHarry Fry hinted that he might swerve Cheltenham.

When it comes to Festival clues and ante-post bets, I would rather wait for next week’s Dublin Racing Festival at Leopardstown. This is because many of the major contenders will be having their final prep run before making the journey to Prestbury Park.

It was a great day meeting some new faces and living the dream, I can’t wait for my next visit to the Cotswolds.