As the final chance to impress at Cheltenham before the Festival itself in March, the significance of Festival Trials day cannot be understated.
From Gold Cup and Stayers’ Hurdle trials to novice events over both sets of obstacles, clues for horse racing fans moving forward can often be found at the one-day meeting.
This year’s Festival Trials Day looks no exception and so here’s a summary of what we learned from the action at Prestbury Park.
Frodon stays three miles
Bold jumping front-runner Frodon had no form over three miles, but that didn’t stop trainer Paul Nicholls and popular rider Bryony Frost from having a go at the Cotswold Chase. The race’s proximity to the Cheltenham Gold Cup usually means that the winner has a hard time following-up in the blue riband event of National Hunt steeplechasing, but this seven-year-old stepped up in trip to silence doubters.
Frodon came into the Grade 2 Cotswold off the back of three very impressive runs over roughly two-and-a-half miles in ultra-competitive handicaps. After landing the similar grade Old Roan Handicap Chase at Aintree on reappearance, he then carried top weight in the BetVictor Gold Cup here in November when chasing home Baron Alco and then resumed winning ways in the Caspian Caviar Gold Cup before Christmas.
The extra distance proved no problem for Frodon, who jumped well and made all to beat Welsh Grand National winner Elegant Escape by three-quarters of a length in really game fashion. The Cheltenham Gold Cup is now on his radar, rather than the Ryanair Chase.
On Frodon, Nicholls said:
I don’t think he has the pace to win a Ryanair. I think the Gold Cup is more suitable for him as he stays. That was astonishing. He loves the track and is improving rapidly [so], in a year that is quite open, I’m definitely dead keen to go [for the Gold Cup].
Despite those quotes, Frodon remains a shorter price with bookmakers for the Ryanair on day three of the Festival in the immediate aftermath of his Cotswold win than the Gold Cup. At 20/1 for the latter, the price differential between Frodon and Elegant Escape looks large given the narrow margin of victory.
Colin Tizzard’s runner may actually be the one to take out of the Cotswold Chase. Elegant Escape finished a fine third in last season’s RSA Chase at the Festival and is now 25/1 best with the bookies. He was getting 2lb from Frodon on Trials Day, but given his Chepstow victory the extra furlong in the Gold Cup is sure to suit.
Paisley Park goes favourite for Stayers
Cleeve Hurdle winner Paisley Park is now all the rage for the Stayers’ Hurdle after impressively dropping down in grade from his JLT Long Walk victory at Ascot. Given the rapid improvement Emma Lavelle’s stable star has shown in staying tests, he is now prime material for Cheltenham Festival free bet offers from companies like William Hill and Betfred.
YouTube: Paisley Park Wins The Long Walk Hurdle 2018
Paisley Park ticks all the boxes for a serious Stayers’ Hurdle contender with even more to come from him after just three starts at the trip. He is now a course and distance winner having made menacing headway in the Cleeve to come powerfully clear of West Approach from the last, confirming Ascot form in no uncertain terms.
The British staying hurdle division was looking weak before Paisley Park emerged, and comparisons have been drawn between his running style and that of the legendary Big Buck’s. Like Frodon, he is a seven-year-old who continues to progress and bookmakers are taking no chances.
While costly blunders saw the likes of course specialist Wholestone perform below par and ready Relkeel Hurdle hero Midnight Shadow fail to get the trip, Paisley Park produced the goods. He is now a warm Stayers’ Hurdle favourite, but could face last year’s winner Penhill, who goes well fresh for Willie Mullins and if the Irish champion trainer is somehow able to get him race fit at home in Ireland.
There now looks to be a genuine Anglo-Irish head-to-head on St Patrick’s Thursday at the Festival. Emerald Isle raiders have won the last two renewals of the Stayers, but Paisley Park has the potential to wrest the three-mile race back into British hands.