Cheltenham Trials Day - stats, trends and significance to the Cheltenham Festival itself
Trials day. Our final visit to those hallowed hills until that glorious Tuesday in March when the greatest show on turf roars into town. These trials should be as visually informative as they are stimulating to watch - but what relevance do they have on the Cheltenham Festival itself ?
The wonderfully dry humorist Stephen Leacock commented once that people in ancient times lacked statistics so had to fall back on lies. However, today the racing media and social media websites are festooned with facts and figures so let's take a look, starting with the first race of the day :
The JCB Triumph Hurdle Trial ( Registered as The Finesse Hurdle ) ( Grade 2 )
In the last 25 years, only Defi Du Seuil in 2017, Peace And Co in 2015 and Katchit in 2007 have won this before winning the main event in March. Alan King trained the latter and his three other trial winners - Franchoek, Walkon and Grumeti - all went on to place in the Triumph Hurdle. Aside from the above, only three placed horses since 2001 featured prominently in the Triumph ( one winner, two placed ). A couple of recent runners have participated in the Fred Winter and Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys handicaps but without much success. 2016 winner Protek Des Flos bypassed the festival but the placed horses failed to shine in March.
A couple of trends for the Finesse Hurdle :
10 of the last 14 winners came from the first three in the betting and 12 of the last 14 winners had finished in the first two last time out.
Timeform Novices Handicap Chase ( Class 2 )
Raced over 2 miles 5 furlongs on the New Course, the same course and distance as the JLT Novices Chase on Festival Thursday, although the form usually has greater relevance to the Festival Novices Handicap Chase on the Tuesday, now sponsorsed by Close Bothers and referred to here as the CBNHC
Here's a list of recent renewals and how the placed horses performed in March
4th Un Temps Pour Tout - 1st in the Ultima Handicap Chase
1st Generous Ransom - 3rd in the CBNHC
3rd Irish Cavalier - 1st in the CBNHC
1st Vino Griego - 2nd in the Plate
7th Rajdhani Express - 1st in the CBNHC
2nd Vino Griego - 4th in the CBNHC
2nd Tricky Trickster - 1st in the National Hunt Chase
4th Character Building - 2nd in the National Hunt Chase
1st Lacdoudal - 2nd in the CBNHC
3rd Cornish Rebel - 3rd in the RSA Chase
( Royal Auclair in 2002 and La Landiere in 2003 both won this prior to winning the old Cathcart Challenge Cup, which was replaced by the Ryanair Chase in 2005 )
It's worth remembering that 9 of the last 12 winners of the CBNHC finished in the first two prior to the festival, so the winner and runner-up of this trial need serious consideration for the main event should they not race again before March.
The BetBright Trial Chase ( Registered as the Cotswold Chase ) ( Grade 2 )
A prestigious race in it's own right and whose alumni include some of the finest, most beloved staying chasers to grace the sport in modern times. However, not since Looks Like Trouble in 2000 has the winner claimed first prize again in the Gold Cup itself.
Favourites have won 7 of 35 renewals ( just 2 in the last 15 )
Only one dual winner ( See More Business in 1998 and 2001 )
Only one Irish winner ( Rince Ri in 2002 )
The last favourite to win was Cyfor Malta in 1999.
A list of recent renewals where the form had significance at the Festival :
1st Giant Bolster - 3rd in the Gold Cup
3rd Hunt Ball - 4th in the Plate
2nd Our Vic - 1st in the Ryanair
3rd Neptune Collonges - 3rd in the Gold Cup
1st Exotic Dancer - 2nd in the Gold Cup
2nd Our Vic - 2nd in the Ryanair
So good horses run in good races, which we knew already, and the trainers who possess a likely Gold Cup winner in their stable have often bypassed this race, sending their star horse straight to the festival fresh from a run at Kempton or Leopardstown. Djakadam was favourite for this in 2016 but fell. Conditions during this meeting can be very testing and in stark contrast to what they encounter in March.
Ballymore Classive Novices Hurdle ( Registered as the
Classic Novices Hurdle ) ( Grade 2 )
Formerly known as the Neptune, this is one of the most popular races during the Festival. The trial is raced over the same distance but on Cheltenham's New Course, whereas the main event takes place on the Old Course. One need only look at the list below to realise this matters not because the hall of fame reads like a Who's Who of Festival staying hurdlers :
1st Wholestone - 3rd in the Albert Bartlett
1st Yanworth - 2nd in the Neptune
2nd Rathvinden - 3rd in the Neptune
1st At Fishers Cross - 1st in the Albert Bartlett
2nd The New One - 1st in the Neptune
1st Bobs Worth - 1st in the Albert Bartlett
2nd Rock On Ruby - 2nd in the Neptune
1st Diamond Harry - 3rd in the Neptune
1st Wichita Lineman - 1st in the Albert Bartlett
2nd Tidal Bay - 2nd in the Neptune
3rd Massini's Maguire - 1st in the Neptune
2nd Brewster - 3rd in the Albert Bartlett
6th Moulin Riche - 1st in the Albert Bartlett
So an incredibly informative race and backers of horses which don't win but feature prominently in the trial can remain optimistic as regards their chances of success during the Festival itself. What makes that 2013 renewal even more remarkable is that the third home was future Gold Cup winner Coneygree
The Cleeve Hurdle ( Grade 2 )
One of the top staying hurdle races in Britain and Ireland and arguably the leading World Hurdle trial in recent times ( the race distance was increased from 2 miles 5 furlongs to 3 miles in 2005 )
Inglis Drever in 2008 and Big Bucks in both 2009 and 2012 won this en route to success at the Festival and they were joined in 2016 by the mighty Thistlecrack, who cruised to victory in this trial and managed to win even more impressively in the main event in March.
Other winners of the Cleeve like Grand Crus and Saphir Du Rheu have gone on to finish second in the World Hurdle
Ingis Drever, Big Bucks, Reve De Sivola, Thistlecrack and Unowhatimeanharry have carried the top weight of 11-8 to victory. 25 others tried and failed. 11 of the last 13 winners had raced previously at Cheltenham
Good luck and happy racing !