Cheltenham 2023: Three horses set to run on Trials Day who could star at the Festival
Cheltenham's Trials Day is always a highlight of the winter months for jumps fans and with this year's card being extended with the addition of the abandoned Clarence House Chase, it looks a meeting to savour. Nine races will take place at Prestbury Park and here we take a look at a selection of horses who could stake their claim for Festival glory at the important meeting en route to the biggest week in racing...
Cotswold Chase and Gold Cup - Protektorat
Protektorat falls into the category of staying chasers that many racing fans over the years will be familiar with, one that seems to have been around forever yet is still relatively young. At just the age of eight he has quite the CV behind him, finishing a distant but credible third in last year's Gold Cup before a career best last time out at Haydock when romping to Betfair Chase success. Last season the Skeltons were always confident about his ability but seem even more bullish this time around that he has once again grown into his frame going from seven to eight and connections feel he is in the prime of his career this campaign so can go much closer to landing racing's Blue Riband event.
He will have to defy the history books if he is to take out the Cotswold Chase before going onto Gold Cup success, as no horse has done the double since the year 2000, but if he puts in a commanding performance and dismisses market rival Noble Yeats (a classy operator and Grand National winner but with doubts over his suitability to the undulations of Cheltenham after his 2022 Ultima disappointment) expect Protektorat to be the leading challenger to Galopin Des Champs in the antepost lists.
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Clarence House Chase and Champion Chase - Energumene
No introductions are needed here. The reigning Champion Chaser and a wonderfully no nonsense brute of a horse, Energumene is one of the stars of Jumps Racing right now and fans will be eagerly awaiting seeing him on British soil for the first time since his big day last March at Prestbury Park in this race. The race was of course set to take place last weekend at its traditional home of Ascot but that card fell foul of the cold snap and so it was rescheduled into Cheltenham's bumper card.
Edwardstone is a rival worthy of serious respect and is in fact Energumene's closest challenger in the antepost lists for the 2023 Champion Chase, but he still has some to find to reach the levels Energumene has displayed numerous times throughout his career and is on a retrieval mission after a mishap at Kempton last time out. The horse who profited from that mistake was Editeur Du Gite, supplemented for this race by Gary Moore, and his front running style should tee the race up perfectly for Energumene. He has shown the track holds no fears and is a top class two mile chaser. Expect him to only get shorter for both the Clarence House as race off time approaches and then to shorten up further for the Champion Chase in the aftermath of the race if he dismisses his main market rival in this key trial as expected.
Classic Novices' Hurdle and Ballymore Novices' Hurdle - Pembroke
After discussing two established top notch chasers, the last horse to watch out for on Trials Day looking ahead to the Cheltenham Festival is a younger recruit to jumping who connections will be hoping can one day eat at the top table like Protektorat and Energumene. Pembroke looked borderline disappointing on hurdling debut when finishing 7th behind Tahmuras at Chepstow, but three weeks later looked much more like the horse he had promised to be in his exciting bumper season. He cruised away to win a novice hurdle at Wetherby on heavy by six and a half lengths and both his jumping and temperament looked markedly improved.
He again enhanced his reputation with another facile success next time out at Ludlow, on good to soft thus proving his versatility when it comes to ground. In the end he eased up yet still won by 16 lengths and this first attempt at an intermediate trip looks to hold no fears and is a sign of things to come. The Ballymore at Cheltenham looks an open race this year (until Willie Mullins unleashes another monster at the Dublin Racing Festival) in comparison to the Facile Vega dominated Supreme and if Pembroke continues on his upward trajectory by winning the Classic on Saturday expect to see him rocket up the odds lists for the Ballymore at the start of Day Two at the Festival.