Cheltenham Festival Pointers: The 3 horses to light up Trials Day

Saint Calvados can enhance his Cheltenham Festival chances with a sparkling run in the Cotswold Chase.
Saint Calvados can enhance his Cheltenham Festival chances with a sparkling run in the Cotswold Chase.

Steve Chambers looks at Saturday's Festival Trials Day at Cheltenham and picks out three horses that can sparkle at Prestbury Park and enhance their Cheltenham Festival claims...

Saint Calvados - Cotswold Chase - 14:25

One of the feature races on Festival Trials Day is the Grade 2 Cotswold Chase, which was won last year by Santini, who then went on to finish a sparkling second in the Cheltenham Gold Cup. However, the last time a horse won the Cotswold Chase and then followed up in the Cheltenham Gold Cup was all the way back in 2000 when Looks Like Trouble claimed the coveted double, so can any of the runners this year taste victory and then claim the blue riband event and down reigning champion Al Boum Photo in the blue riband event?

With Cheltenham set to inspect on Friday afternoon with the wet weather putting the meeting in jeopardy, a host of trainers will be looking to the skies and praying the rain stays away as they will be eager to get one final run into their horses and last year's one-two in the race Santini and Bristol De Mai have both been declared. Santini (10/1 for Gold Cup) and Bristol De Mai (40/1) served up an absolute thriller last season, and a win for either will certainly boost their Gold Cup claims, but arguably the most fascinating runner is the Harry Whittington-trained Saint Calvados.

Last seen finishing fourth in the King George VI Chase at Kempton Park, Saint Calvados will be in receipt of 6lb from both Santini and Bristol De Mai, and while he is a 50/1 chance for the Gold Cup, he could be using this race as a warm-up for the Ryanair Chase. Just touched off by Min in the 2020 Ryanair, Saint Calvados was beaten by a similar small margin on New Year's Day at Cheltenham in a competitive handicap chase, but having proven his class in Graded company then he is a fascinating runner.

With the Gold Cup trip potentially too far, the 2m 5f Ryanair will see him at his best and he is a 9/1 fourth favourite for that contest, but if he can down the pair of Santini and Bristol De Mai on Saturday then his Ryanair claims are given a significant boost, and he could well be challenging for Ryanair favouritism, as he looks to go one better on March 18.

Cheltenham 14:25
Saint Calvados silk

Saint Calvados

Void

Itchy Feet - Cleeve Hurdle - 15:00

All eyes will be on Stayers' Hurdle ante-post favourite Paisley Park, who bids for a third Cleeve Hurdle success on the bounce at 15:00 on Saturday, but could the Emma Lavelle-trained staying sensation face a huge adversary in the shape of Olly Murphy's Itchy Feet, who returns to the hurdling sphere.

Sent over fences in December 2019, Itchy Feet has put up some impressive performances over fences including a Grade 1 success in the Scilly Isles Novices' Chase at Sandown Park, but this season the seven-year-old has found it tough to get his head in front and Murphy has elected to give him a crack over hurdles this weekend. Third in the Old Roan Chase at Aintree, Itchy Feet was then no match for Imperial Aura in the 1965 Chase at Ascot, while he was beaten by Dashel Drasher last time out. 

Having originally been destined for the Ryanair Chase in March - a race he is 33/1 for - Murphy has tried to get his gelding back to winning ways and a positive run in Saturday's Cleeve could see him head to the Stayers' Hurdle in March. Sure to be an outsider against Paisley Park at the weekend, with Lavelle's charge set to be sent off an odds-on jolly, but Itchy Feet has some smart hurdling form on his CV, and he could well cause a notable shock.

Cheltenham Festival Races

Third in the 2019 Supreme Novices' Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival when staying on eye-catchingly, Itchy Feet was only seen two more times over hurdles before a switch to the chasing game was taken by the Murphy team. Stepped up in trip to 2m 5f in his last couple of starts, Itchy Feet has winning form on soft going, and while Saturday's assignment will test his stamina to the max, he could well relish a return to hurdles and it could well galvanise him into a shock victory.

A 33/1 chance for the Stayers' Hurdle, at the time of writing, Itchy Feet could well launch himself into the picture with a fine run on Saturday and in a wide open division this year, Murphy's charge could be a notable contender come March 18 when the Stayers' Hurdle takes place on day three of the meeting.

Cheltenham 15:00
Itchy Feet silk

Itchy Feet

Void

Al Dancer - Paddy Power Millionaire Trophy Handicap Chase - 13:50

Eleven go to post for a hugely competitive renewal of the Paddy Power Millionaire Trophy Handicap Chase at 13:50 and it's arguably the most intriguing betting heat of the entire seven-race Festival Trials Day card. Run over 2m 4f 127y, this Grade 3 event could throw up a potential springer in the Ryanair Chase betting, with a host of contenders entered for that Grade 1 contest on day three of the Cheltenham Festival. 

Midnight Shadow (50/1 for Ryanair) and Caribean Boy (40/1 for Ryanair) are likely to be the pair fighting out for favouritism in Saturday's contest and the former, who was a winner of the Dipper Novices' Chase earlier in his career, has some smart form in the book and has to be a leading contender. However, Nicky Henderson's Caribean Boy was a fine winner of a Grade 2 novices' chase at Newbury earlier in the season before struggling in behind Dashel Drasher and Itchy Feet at Ascot on his last start. The seven-year-old is much better than that and Saturday's race could see him recapture his best form and he must go close.

However, the eye-catching contender is the Nigel Twiston-Davies-trained Al Dancer, who is as big as 50/1 for the Ryanair Chase, but could shorten significantly for that race, if he can run a positive race at the weekend. The eight-year-old was last seen finishing mid-division in the Caspian Caviar Gold Cup, but had previously ran well when finishing third in the Paddy Power Gold Cup in November.

Fifth in last year's Arkle, Al Dancer appears to have enjoyed the step up in trip and it could be that he's seen in a much better light over two-and-a-half miles, with the Ryanair Chase test of 2m 5f proving ideal come March. Heavy conditions may well just see him struggle in the closing stages of Saturday's event, but he must go close if producing his best form, and if the likes of the aforementioned duo of Midnight Shadow and Caribean Boy underperform then Al Dancer can book his place in the Ryanair with a victory.

Cheltenham 13:50
Al Dancer silk

Al Dancer

Void
Cheltenham Festival Tips
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