The Duke’s Weekend Preview – Cheltenham Trials Day

It’s Festival Trials Day at Cheltenham racecourse this afternoon and there are some good horses in action. Many of them will also turn up for the Festival in March, so expect plenty of betting market flurries. In the very first race, Apple’s Shakira will take some beating. She’s around 1/5 and it’s unlikely that anything will throw down much of a challenge.

The next race on the card is the Timeform Novices’ Handicap Chase. It’s a good deal more competitive, with Sizing Tennessee the one to beat after nearly snatching a Grade 2 last time out. That sets the form standard and he holds Ballyandy on that run. Solstice Star has had a wind operation and that may help his chances, but the one who is most intriguing at the odds is War Sound. He’s nicely handicapped and likely to appreciate the step up in trip. It’s a shame there are only seven runners as I’d have fancied him to finish in the first three. As it is, I think it’s a difficult race to bet with much certainty.

The 1.50pm Grade 3 Crest Nicholson Handicap Chase is probably the toughest race on the card. King’s Odyssey won the novices race on this card last year and he has a good chance of claiming the glory again after a nice run in a Grade 3 last time at Cheltenham. The form has taken a few knocks but I like him. Ballyhill and Pressurize are in good heart, but Frodon is probably more dangerous after some grand performances against tougher opposition. Bally Longford is overpriced at 16/1 and should attract each-way bets. The drop in trip should suit him and based on his most recent run at Ascot, he should be in the mix.

The Cotswold Chase at 2.25pm is the chance for Bristol de Mai to underline his Gold Cup claims. He won the Charlie Hall Chase and the Betfair Chase in the autumn before a disappointing effort in the King George. I’d expected a fair bit more from him, so Nigel Twiston-Davies will be hopeful that was just a blip. American is unexposed and could be better than we have seen so far, while we know all about The Last Samuri and Tea For Two and on their best efforts they could lay down some form of challenge to Bristol De Mai. I really do think though, that class will prevail and we should see the favourite win.

The Ballymore Classic Novices’ Hurdle is a watching game for me, so we’ll skip to the 3.35pm Cleeve Hurdle. Finian’s Oscar possessed plenty of quality over hurdles and won two Grade 1 novice contests, before a hit and miss switch to chasing. While that may well still be a long term plan, he wouldn’t be the first horse to revert back from chasing to hurdles and make a very good impact (Big Buck’s was a real favourite of mine). The World’s End hasn’t been in great form this season but might return to the level of ability we witnessed last season.

The horse that everyone will be cheering on is Beer Goggles. Very sadly, trainer Richard Woollacott passed away after a long battle with mental illness and the horse will run under his widow Kayley’s name. Beer Goggles was an excellent winner at Newbury in the Long Distance Hurdle when last seen and he surely has a chance of winning again. Kayley has set up a fundraising page to raise money for Mind, the mental health charity, as well as Devon Air Ambulance and the Injured Jockeys Fund. Do pay it a visit if you have a few winners today.



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