With Cheltenham Trials Day just around the corner, Nic O’leary caught up with ex-Gloucestershire Live reporter – turned national newspaper racing correspondent, Melissa Jones, to get her thoughts on Saturday’s meeting.
Q: How does Trials Day compare to other Cheltenham meetings outside of The Festival?
A: Trials Day is arguably the best meeting for seeing future Festival winners. The three-day November meeting has produced 42 of them while this weekend’s fixture is responsible for showcasing 26. It also comes at a perfect time in the calendar, whether trainers want to send their horses straight to the March meeting or fit in another run.
Q: How has trials day reflected on the festival in the past and are there any races/horses you would be paying particular attention to?
A: The Paddy Power Cotswold Chase is the most intriguing of the seven races, especially if Gordon Elliott sends over Delta Work. He will be keeping one eye on the ground ahead of the Dublin Racing Festival and no rain is expected at Cheltenham before the weekend. His potential runner is closely matched with Santini on the form book, however they still have something to find with Bristol De Mai. The nine-year-old has missed the King George this year and goes well fresh. His run against an on song Lostintranslation at Haydock can be rated highly, despite defeat.
Q: What do you think of the card as it stands – are there any notable omissions for you?
A: The Big Breakaway is a notable omission, he has impressed in his two starts under Rules this season. However he knocked a joint and was ruled out by Colin Tizzard. It would be lovely to see Apple’s Jade come over to take on Paisley Park and If The Cap Fits, as she could have an easy lead. The race would fit into her schedule well, however the market suggests she may not be travelling. Overall it looks like it could be an excellent card according to the entries.
Q: Compared to recent years – how strong do you feel the Cheltenham-based strong looks to be?
A: At every meeting there is always a strong local contingent. There is a running joke in the press room that a Gloucestershire-trained horse always wins the last race, which for me and former colleagues would keep us on our toes! Kim Bailey has the favourite for the Timeform Novices’ Handicap Chase in the shape of Imperial Aura. The six-year-old ran well at the track last time out, showing his inexperience at various stages but jumping proficiently in the main. A mark of 136 looks fair. Tom George and Fergal O’Brien are set to rely on past winners at the course this season, Summerville Boy & Champagne Well, but they both have something to find in their respective races. Ben Pauling has an unbeaten French horse We Run The Night entered in the finale, although he has easier options over the coming days.