Review of Festival Trials Day at Cheltenham – a warm up for the main event

Neptune Collonges on this way to victory

There really is nothing like a Cheltenham roar and the noise that greeted the finish to the first race was again a reminder that it really is only 6 weeks until the tapes go up for the Supreme Novices and the start of the 2011 Festival. Local Hero having only his third start over hurdles won the Gr 2 JCB Triumph Hurdle Trial after a ding dong battle up the hill with Third Intention.The McCoy treatment drove Local Hero two lengths in front at the line, he did well to win considering the two noteworthy jumping errors he made and must now go on the shortlist for The Triumph Hurdle for which he is generally available at 14/1, although Stan James and Paddy Power have him trading at 20/1. Trainer Steve Gollings stated that the four year old will be given entries in both the Triumph and the Fred Winter.

The Giant Bolster who had looked booked for a place at best when rounding the home turn did well to score in the 2m 5f Handicap Chase under a fine ride from Rodi Greene. As well as bouncing back from his fall at Prestbury Park in November, you have to be impressed with the way he carried top weight in the sticky ground. It is believed that he will take his chance in the RSA Chase at the Festival as connections feel 3 miles suit him best. The 2010 Festival saw The Giant Bolster finish an excellent sixth to Peddlers Cross in the Neptune at 200/1!

Wishfull Thinking jumped his rivals into submission in the Gr 3 Handicap Chase and firmly booked his ticket to the Festival in holding nearest pursuer Calgary Bay by three and a half lengths. His options for the Festival are the Jewson, the RSA and the Festival Plate. On this display it would be no surprise to see him victorious again in March and bookmakers reacted to this fact by making him 8/1 favourite for the Jewson (10/1 Paddy Power).

Neptune Collonges rolled back the years in the Argento Chase, which has over the years been used as a stepping stone to the Gold Cup. The grey made all under A.P McCoy and won by 1 ¼ lengths from the enigmatic Tidal Bay who ran on in the closing stages, again showing he is an equine psychiatrists dream! Placed in two Gold Cups in 2008 and 2009 but missing the 2010 race through injury Neptune Collonges will now take his place in the field for the 2011 renewal. Connections had been eyeing the Grand National but on this performance it has to be the Gold Cup. Also heading to the Gold Cup is Tidal Bay (now 25’s from 50’s) Disappointment of the race was 11-10 favourite Punchestowns who trailed in thirty lengths adrift of the front two. Plans for him remain up in the air.

Bobs Worth shot to the head of the market for the Neptune at the Festival with his victory in the 2m 4 ½ f Novices Hurdle. Previously an impressive winner over course & distance on New Year’s Day he picked up very well up the hill to see off Rock On Ruby who was coming into the race undefeated over hurdles. Bobs Worth looks to have everything you would associate with a Festival winner and I am sure that the 5/1 available will become shorter on the day. Hot favourite Backspin so impressive when landing the Challow in the Newbury fog was disappointing when emptying two out after travelling strongly turning in. 
Art Professor and Alarazi both looked handicappers to stay on the right side of when fighting out the finish to the closing 2m 1f handicap hurdle. Art Professor had been running back to form in his two previous outings after a two year absence from the track and showed himself to be very game in denying Alarazi’s challenge by a short head. Art Professor was 5lbs lower than when he last won and all the evidence suggests he will go in again soon.
So get out a pen and start crossing the days off on your calendar, the Festival will soon be here!
Cathryn Fry