Cheltenham Trials Day Results: What did we learn for the Festival?

Cheltenham Trials Day Results: What did we learn for the Festival?

Architect Tips on the big stories from Cheltenham Trials Day, including key results for the Triumph Hurdle and Champion Chase ante-post markets.

After Cheltenham hosted its high-class Trials Day card on Saturday afternoon, plenty of talking points and clues were unveiled ahead of the Cheltenham Festival in March after racing had concluded at Prestbury Park as nearly every race had a significant impact on the ante-post markets. 

Did we see a Cheltenham Festival winner? Did some of the hot favourites underperform and do more harm than good for their Festival credentials? What sort of implications did the results have on the ante-post market? Let’s review the action in more detail. 

Comfort Zone & Scriptwriter enhance Triumph Hurdle credentials 

The opener was the Grade 2 JCB Triumph Trial Juvenile Hurdle and it looked quite a strong renewal on paper. The result saw the Joseph O’Brien-trained Comfort Zone marginally get the better of Scriptwriter as the pair pulled somewhat six lengths clear of the third Dixon Cove. Despite the Irish raider seemingly outstaying the winner in the closing stages, I think the best horse finished second. 

Prior to the race, Comfort Zone and Scriptwriter were 16/1 for the Triumph Hurdle in March and both strengthened their claims, as there was only three-quarters-of-a-length separating the pair at the finish. All of the sextet travelled well and as they turned into the home-straight, as there was only six lengths covering the field. 

However, Paddy Brennan aboard Scriptwriter was the first to commit, as they went to the front approaching the last hurdle but a confident Jonjo O’Neill ride on Comfort Zone was right in the leaders slipstream at the final hurdle and while the pair engaged into a tussle on the run-in, it was the Irish raider who narrowly get on top inside the final 200 yards. 


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The Finale Hurdle winner was cut into 10/1 for the Triumph Hurdle back here in March following that success, whilst the runner-up was narrowly nibbled into 14/1 in places (16/1 best) and remains a decent price. By contrast, the well-fancied Jupiter Du Gite returned a well beaten sixth having raced far too keenly. I was keen to oppose him here as despite causing a 66/1 shock on his hurdles debut, I thought his win was too good to be true. 

At the weekend, he raced far too exuberantly, wasting too much energy and failing to consume any of that for the second part of the race. He eventually settled but it was all too late, as he had nothing left in the bank heading into the home-straight and was eased down. He pushed out to 40/1 from 14/1 following his disappointment and his trainer will have to work miracles with him to see him bounce back in the Triumph. 

What we learned from this race, which is likely to prove informative, is that the first two were the best horses in the race and perhaps if Brennan didn’t briefly lose his irons at one stage of the race and held onto him a bit longer with a later delivery instead of getting to the front too soon, Scriptwriter would have probably emerged as the winner. He certainly didn’t diminish his Triumph Hurdle claims despite his defeat. 

Trainer Milton Harris was admittedly left deflated he got beat but it was still a good performance in defeat and nothing has changed my mind about him for the Cheltenham Festival having tipped him in my ante-post column pre-race to Saturday’s race. 

His price remains very fair from punting stance on the back of that display and he will surely be more effective on spring ground come March. 

If he were to meet Comfort Zone in March, I would be optimistic about Scriptwriter reversing the form, back on a favourable surface with a more patient ride, though the Willie Mullins-trained Lossiemouth still sits firmly at the head of the market. He will probably cement that position should he succeed at the Dublin Racing Festival. Even so, Milton Harris’ charge could still prove to be the best of the Brits. 


Stage Star books ticket with great weight-carrying performance

The Timeform Novices’ Handicap Chase has been a good guide to finding a Cheltenham Festival winner over the years, as it’s produced plenty of Festival winners this century and the race might have found another in the shape of Paul Nicholls’ Stage Star, who outclassed his rivals off top-weight. 

It was quite a surprise he was even allowed in the race off 142 considering he was a Grade 1 winner over hurdles. Based on this evidence, he is clearly a 150+ rated horse, as his jumping was flawless and Harry Cobden was always sitting confident throughout the race. 

He met the final fence on a beautiful stride when asked to wing it on a long stride and he responded instantaneously to his riders minor urgings when asked to seal his race once he met the rising ground, keeping on strongly to score by three and three-quarters of a length. In my opinion, it was one of the best performances on the card. 

The seven-year-old now has plenty of options at the Festival and Nicholls is now faced with a dilemma as to which race he chooses to go with this talented individual. It is possible he goes for the Turners Novices' Chase if he steps into Grade 1 company again but the Festival Plate Handicap Chase could come under consideration as well. 

It is likely the Irish protagonists will provide a much sterner test wherever he lines up but now that he has the all-important winning course form at the course, he cannot be taken lightly. I really like the way he presents himself and he is open to further improvement over fences, having won three of his four starts in this sphere. 

Back On The Lash back to winning ways in the Cross Country 

In the Cross Country Chase, most expected the defending Cross Country Festival champion Delta Work to reward favourite backers with another success at Prestbury Park but Martin Keighley’s Back On The Lash wasn’t to be denied, holding off the late challenge of the well-backed Deise Aba to record a second course-and-distance victory, with Delta Work having to settle for third. 

Having warmed for this race with a decent third behind Does He Know in the Jewson Handicap Chase at the November meeting, Sean Bowen executed a well-judged ride in the centre of the track and despite being challenged from the last fence, the nine-year-old found plenty in reserve to stay on strongly and score three-quarters of a length. The bookmakers cut him into 20/1 for the Festival following that success. 

Should he return to the Festival to tackle the main event, a race he was pulled up in last year, he would have to be considered an each-way player provided the doesn’t have “heavy” in the description. What we did learn here was that course experience counts for plenty, though the three to take from the race were Deise Aba, who ran a belter on his debut in this sphere and Plan Of Attack who did well to finish seventh on the back of an early bad mistake. 

Finally, Gordon Elliott’s Mortal filled fourth again over course-and-distance, where he travelled noticeably well again before floundering in the closing stages. Perhaps he doesn’t stay but he wouldn’t be out of place in the main event in March and his unchanged 33/1 odds seem generous. His stablemate Delta Work remains the 5/4 favourite despite being beaten fair and square on Saturday and seems a skinny price. 


Editeur Du Gite enters the Champion Chase picture 

Whilst the battle and match-up between Energumene and Edwardstone sadly didn’t come to fruition as we all hoped for once Energumene made a bad mistake at the second last which ended his chance, the complexion of the race changed dramatically, as it was left with Edwardstone to try and run down front-runner Editeur Du Gite. 

It was difficult to recognise how much he had improved since his Grade 2 Desert Orchid Chase at Kempton at Christmas and, like most, I did not expect him to make the frame here let alone win the race. The race itself was due to be originally run at Ascot and the nine-year-old wasn’t even entered but connections supplemented him once it was announced it would be rescheduled at Cheltenham. 

Gary Moore’s exuberant hard-as-nails front-runner, who capitalised on Edwardstone’s early departure over Christmas, remained a double-figure price for the Champion Chase heading into this race. However, his aggressive jumping at speed, where he attacked his fences, was a joy to watch under an enterprising ride from Niall Houlihan and once he turned into the home-straight, it was clear the distress signals were out on Energumene who was cajoled along to try and keep in contention. 

To the 2022 Champion Chaser hero’s credit, he managed to reduce the gap at the final fence but Edwardstone was in his slip stream and once the odds-on favourite made a costly mistake, Edwardstone threw down his challenge on the run-in.

However, the most impressive aspect of Editeur Du Gite’s performance, to me at least, was that he was able to battle once headed and hand Niall Houlihan with a first Grade 1 success. Recognised as a weak finisher in the past once he was headed, this was undoubtedly a career-best performance and the older he has got, the more he wants it. 

His brave performance saw his price cut into 5/2 from 25/1 for the Champion Chase in March (6/1 best price), whilst Edwardstone shortened into 7/4 and Energumene was eased out to 11/8 from 4/6. The biggest learning curve here was that as much as some hyped-up events seem like a match-up, never underestimate those at bigger odds, especially the course specialists. 

While Moore’s charge produced a high-class front-running display, there is no doubt Energumene underperformed, even without the bad mistake at the worst stage of the race. His usual good jumping was not in evidence and although he proved his versatility in regards to tactics in last season’s Champion Chase, perhaps the result would have been different if he had of taken Editeur Du Gite on and got that rival out of his comfort zone. 

Nevertheless, he didn’t travel with the same panache as he often does and connections will have to consider if positive tactics are deployed in March if he’s to defend his crown. He now has a bit to prove as his shock defeat has undoubtedly done more harm than good and if stablemate Blue Lord wins at the Dublin Racing Festival, he might not even be the main hope from Mullins stable. Only time will tell. Edwardstone, on the other hand, didn’t underperform and back on better ground in March, his price seems a fair reflection on his chances in March. 

Prior to the weekend’s contest, the ante-post market had the Champion Chase as a two-horse race but now that Editeur Du Gite pulled off the performance of his life to beat the Champion Chase and Arkle winners, his winning performance has certainly shaken up the market. The betting and race itself now has a more open feel about it ahead of the big one in March. Who comes out on top? I am not sure, but one thing for sure is we are in for a real treat should all three Grade 1 winners cross paths for a second time. 

II Ridoto strikes for Paul Nicholls

Paul Nicholls saddled a 101/1 treble at Cheltenham on Saturday as following Stage Star’s great weight-carrying performance earlier in the day, he added two more wins later on the card as II Ridoto and Hacker De Places won their respective events to give the champion trainer a great day. 

The former landed the Paddy Power Cheltenham Countdown Podcast Handicap Chase, beating Fugitif in good style. Fitted with first-time cheekpieces, this addition seemed to play a huge factor in the backend of the race, as having travelled strongly and despite being challenged by the eventual runner-up at the last fence, he found a lot off the bridle to score by four lengths. 

Will we see him line up at the Cheltenham Festival? Probably. He could go for one of the handicaps, though the Topham Chase over two miles and five furlongs around Aintree has come under consideration. Now the headgear has been fitted and worked wonders here, hopefully connections will persevere with it going forward on the back of this good performance. 


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Rock My Way gives trainer Syd Rosie a memorable success 

In the Grade 2 Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle, Syd Rosie enjoyed the biggest success of his training career when Rock My Way built on his promising debut second here last time when going one better in this race. 

Sent off a 13/2 chance in the in the hands of Tom Scudamore, he travelled as well as he did on his rules debut and although he got to the front too soon, he showed a lot of staying power to beat hot favourite Pembroke. 

The winner, who is entered in both the Ballymore and the Albert Bartlett at the Cheltenham Festival, shortened into 16/1 from 50/1 for both those races and connections seem to be favouring the latter race, with the step up in trip sure to bring about further improvement. 

How good he could be we don’t know but what he has shown so far is a lot of professionalism and class and it would come as no surprise was he to feature at the Festival and finish in the first three in whichever race he tackles, which I am sure would satisfy connections. Keep an eye on him. 


Gold Tweet’s victory opens up the Stayers’ Hurdle division

It wasn’t to be for Paisley Park in the Cleeve Hurdle, who could only finish third and maybe age is starting catching up with him. He looked in great form at Newbury and Kempton earlier in the season so it was a disappointing effort to say the least, though the Stayers’ Hurdle division looks anybody’s for the taking, so his 20/1 odds will still appeal to some despite his defeat at the weekend. 

I must admit, I was surprised Gold Tweet was able to leave his previous form behind him and win this easily, as most others probably thought as well. I loved how well he travelled and quickened away from Dashel Drasher in the closing stages. The runner-up is tough as old boots and he scooted past him without being asked for maximum efforts. 

It is possible the race fell apart though, as Paisley underperformed and Dashel Drasher probably went too soon when asked to go and win his race. That said, take nothing away from the winner, though he still needs to be supplemented for the Stayers’ Hurdle and given the Cleeve Hurdle has produced nine winners of the Stayers’ Hurdle this century, it would be a shame if he didn’t end up in the race. He is now available at 9/1.