The single best days racing outside of The Festival is Trials’ Day and we have a bumper NINE races to look forward to with the rearranged Cross Country Chase and Clarence House Chase adding to the star studded card.
Throw in an intriguing card at Doncaster and, after an abundance of abandonments, we have competitive mouth-watering action ahead of us on a Super Saturday.
The rearranged Clarence House Chase still gives us the match that we all wish to see with the Champion Energumene set to meet the pretender to his throne EDWARDSTONE, with just 6lb separating the pair of 9yos on official ratings.
This is EDWARDSTONE’s first season chasing in open company, yet he has had ten more races than the Irish raider. Although the handicapper clearly favours Energumene, there is an argument to be made that EDWARDSTONE’s form is slightly better, beating a decent field in last year’s Arkle and travelling all over the opposition in the Tingle Creek in December. He blotted his copybook with a rare unseat at Kempton where Editeur Du Gite took the rest apart, but he can serve it up to the reigning Champion Chaser.
There is no doubting Energumene’s talent, but his Champion Chase victory was handed to him on a plate with Shishkin pulling up early and Chacun Pour Soi departing while he has generally been tackling inferior opposition in Ireland, beating a total of 18 rivals in his last five victories.
IL RIDOTO can make it third time lucky over course and distance this season in the two-and-a-half-mile handicap chase.
He was fourth in both the Paddy Power Gold Cup (where a mistake at the last cost him lengths) and the December Gold Cup, with the handicapper again relenting and lowering him a pound. The cheekpieces could make all the difference here in a bid to help him concentrate and I am sure a mark of 138 is far from the ceiling for this 6yo.
Fugitif has a huge 10lb hike to defy after Chepstow romp and has never been this high, while Your Darling is best fresh with all wins coming after a break.
Coole Cody is a standing dish in these events but was well beaten off this mark in this race last year while Guy is a consistent type but always finds at least one too good and the handicapper is cutting him no slack.
Silver Hallmark would have a squeak at a price if building on his Chepstow third over Christmas, if the ground remains on the soft side. He has run two solid races with good in the going description, but connections do appear to want him on a soft surface and he was a very progressive novice two seasons ago.
PROTEKTORAT can lay down a serious claim to the Cheltenham Gold Cup by landing the Cotswold Chase.
Last year’s Blue Riband third showed he had improved again when storming clear to land the Betfair Chase at Haydock by eleven lengths. Despite A Plus Tard pulling up, he would have to have been on something close to best form to repel Dan Skelton’s 8yo, who went a long way to dispelling any stamina doubts last March. Those pieces of form, as well as his 25 length romp in the Many Clouds Chase thirteen months ago, puts him head and shoulders above the rest here, and his price is held up nicely thanks to Noble Yeats.
Last year's Grand National winner is obviously respected, but his form still stands someway below the best stayers around. He won this season's Many Clouds Chase at Aintree, but holes can be picked in that form while he was beaten twenty lengths off a mark of 147 in the Ultima just ten months ago and his new lofty rating some 20lbs higher is questionable.
Ahoy Senor makes too many mistakes, but I would expect a better showing here then in the King George. Sounds Russian meanwhile is an admirable stayer who went very close to carrying top weight to victory in the Rowland Meyrick, but has work to do to turn Aintree form around with Noble Yeats.
3.00 CHELTENHAM – GELINO BELLO
As much as we all love and adore Paisley Park who has become the public horse, and we wish him well in his history bid for a fourth Cleeve Hurdle, every horse has his price and at around 5/4 he can be left alone here.
Nothing would satisfy me more than to see him come out of his habitual ‘flat spot’ to surge up his favourite hill and claim victory, but age waits for no horse and I’m not a believer that he is near peak form at the age of eleven.
I’m not sure a solidly run three miles gets the best from Dashel Drasher, but GELINO BELLO is an unexposed staying hurdler and where have we seen Paul Nicholls bring a horse back from chasing to this sphere previously with success?
I’m not saying GELINO BELLO is in the same ballpark as Big Bucks, but he won the three mile Sefton Novices Hurdle at Aintree convincingly enough and hadn’t done anything wrong chasing until tipping up at Kempton in the Kauto Star. He was narrowly beaten by Blazing Khal twice at Cheltenham in 2021 and he is among the Stayers’ Hurdle favourites, so it wouldn’t be the biggest surprise were the 7yo to improve past the field here.
The Skybet Chase is always a hotly contested handicap where last year’s first and third, Windsor Avenue and Cap Du Nord return once again. Incredibly they return 2lb and 4lb lower respectively than last year’s marks after below par runs so far this season, but write off a return to form at your peril.
Tea For Free has been a revelation since being sent chasing, making it four out of four when making most at Newbury on New Year’s Eve. He is up another 7lb but also has claims while at a price, Java Point has an each way squeak on his second to Rapper at Cheltenham on New Year’s Day.
GA LAW is taken to be just the second winning favourite of this contest since 2013. The lightly raced 7yo is yet to run over three miles, but his strong staying victory at Cheltenham’s November meeting gives more than cause for optimism.
I wondered if connections would opt to take a chance in the King George, but they have continued down the handicap route. He has twelve stone to carry but bearing in mind his Cheltenham victim was fifth in the Grade 1 Savills Chase and then second to Fakir D’Oudairies on Sunday, it is solid form and I expect him to be tackling graded company before the season is out.
*18+ | BeGambleAware