The correct definition of a ‘Trial’ is ‘the test of a performance, qualities and/or suitability of something’ and Saturday at the Prestbury Park track is full of unanswered questions to date with several festival players in the Festival dock.
I cannot think of a year in the time I have been involved in the sport where the Cheltenham Gold Cup looks so wide open, but I fancy that DE RASHER COUNTER (8/1) can put a big spanner in the works and crash his way into the betting for the Blue Riband event via the Cotswold Chase at 14.25.
On the official figures this eight-year-old has a mountain to climb, with the likes of Bristol de Mai and to a lesser extent Top Ville Ben and Santini in the field, but believe me, there is a bundle more to come from the Emma Lavelle charge.
The way this horse travelled and jumped in the Ladbroke Trophy was simply breathtaking and although that form has not worked out – we can make an exception with this stayer as he simply idled on the long run to home after clearing the last obstacle.
The other huge factor in his favour is that the drying ground, which could see any number of these have their chances compromised.
He is a gold edged each-way play for Saturday’s event.
And even worth a small tipple for the big race on Friday, March 13th.
Paisley Park and If The Cap Fits rightly dominate the market for the Cleeve Hurdle 14.25 on this year’s form. However, the new kid on the staying block, SUMMERVILLE BOY (6/1), looks set to spring a minor surprise.
His success in the Relkeel Hurdle was impressive to say the least and he has been crying out for this deep test of stamina.
The way he put the classy Roksana to bed that day was a real eye-opener and this extra half mile on decent ground looks set to see him confirm his credentials for the Stayers Hurdle at the festival.
Should he line up for the Paddy Power 45 Sleeps To Cheltenham Trophy Handicap Chase at 13.50 instead of the feature race at Doncaster, I make COUNT MERIBEL (10/1) a cracking each-way play in the 2m 4f Grade Three event.
Nigel Twiston-Davies has kept this smart, young chaser fresh for a spring campaign following two runs this year, the best of which was a two and a quarter length second to Lostintranslation first time out at Carlisle.
The selection has already shown that he can handle these stiff fences when he saw off Le Breuil in the Steel Plate and Sections Novice Chase just over a year ago and a mark of 145 looks highly enticing.
The pivotal factor thoughout the Trials Meeting will be the going. With fair weather forecast right through until Saturday, we could have good to soft ground to deal with.
That would be a massive plus for former Silver Trophy Hurdle hero GARO DE JUILLEY (20/1) in the Timeform Novices Handicap Chase at 13.15.
That big win over timber at Chepstow came off a mark of 134 and since going chasing, the Sophie Leech-trained novice has run well here on three occasions, with his place effort behind Slate House the stand-out run.
However, he is a miles better horse on less testing ground and should the ground dry out significantly, then I would make him a massive each-way play at the 20/1 being offered by PP in their ante-post market on Wednesday morning. Oh and guess what mark he is set to race off here? Yep, it’s 134!
I have been waiting for KING ROLAND (3/1) to step up in trip and the Ballymore Novices Hurdle (15.00) gives him a chance to gallop in excess of 2m 4f for the first time.
I suspect that there is a whole lot more improvement in his locker at this trip and possibly beyond. As the betting suggests he looks a huge player here. If you are looking for a double-figure priced entry in the same race, then I wouldn’t put you off One Touch at 20/1 and he is well worth a saver investment.
*These are ante-post markets on Saturday’s races at Cheltenham and while prices and entries are correct at time of publication, they are subject to change at declaration stage.