Festival Trials Day | What You Should Know for Cheltenham Racecourse

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Cheltenham Racecourse hosts several top-tier races throughout the horse racing season. One such event is the Cheltenham Open – the starting point of the horse racing season in the UK. The racecourse opens its doors on New Year’s Day. It’s when horse racing fans prepare for the pinnacle of the horse racing in the UK — the Cheltenham Festival.

The culmination of the event is undoubtedly the Gold Cup — the final event of the competition. But before talking about this top-class event, there is one more contest that gathers visitors from around the world.

Of course, we’re talking about the Festival Trials Day — a feast for the senses for all punters and horse racing enthusiasts alike. The event takes place on the last Saturday of January. It provides punters and trainers with a great insight into the horses’ (and jockeys’) form. If you want to find out everything about the event and prepare yourself for the horse racing action, keep reading.

Festival Trials Day – Schedule

The cold weather doesn’t only affect what you wear at the event — it may also affect the race organisers as well. That’s especially true if horses can’t run on the course due to the frosty conditions. Assuming that it won’t come to that, here’s a brief overview of the racing schedule. We also threw in additional information about the winners from past competitions.

Race 1

The opening race of the Festival Trials Day is the JCB Triumph Trial Juvenile Hurdle. This Grade 2 race is open for hurdlers who haven’t won a hurdle race before the start of the season. Held at the New Course in Cheltenham, the competition is run over two miles and 179 yards. The track features eight hurdles and it’s solely available for horses of four years of age.

Inaugurated in 1985, JCB Triumph Trial Juvenile Hurdle is a race beloved by many horse racing fans. Only two horses managed to win at both events in the same calendar year — Katchit in 2007 and Defi Du Seuil back in 2017. As for jockeys, Robert Thornton secured a three-peat (winning from 2007–09), after previously winning in 2003. This makes him (alongside Barry Geraghty) the most successful jockey at the JCB Triumph Trial Juvenile Hurdle.

Race 2

The Novices’ Handicap Chase is a handicap race available only for chasers who haven’t won a chase race. The racing course is over two miles long and the race takes place at the New Course at Cheltenham. The horses and its riders have to negotiate 17 fences in this Grade 2 race. The race is open for horses aged five or older, and there are no weight restrictions.

Race 3

Founded in 1993, the Trophy Handicap Chase is a Grade 3 race where horses run over a 2.5 miles course. It features 17 fences and it’s open for horses aged five years and older. Like the Race 2 of the event, the Trophy Handicap Chase is a handicap race.

The Trophy Handicap Chase gained Listed status in 2002 and was promoted to Grade 3 in 2005. Only three horses managed to win the event multiple times, none before 2000. The Sawyer won in 2009 and 2010, while Wishfull Thinking secured wins in 2011 and 2014. Annacoty won consecutively in 2015 and 2016, but with different trainers and jockeys.

Cheltenham Festival

Race 4

The fourth race of the Festival Trials Day is called Trial Cotswold Chase. This Grade 2 race lasts for around 3m and is open for horses aged five and older. The course features 21 fences and horses that usually have great performances at the Gold Cup.

As for the previous winners, Many Clouds won the Trial Cotswold Chase twice. Unfortunately, after winning the race in 2017, it passed away. See More Business is another horse that managed to win the race several times. Several jockeys have won more than once. The list includes Leighton Aspell and Colin Brown. However, Tony McCoy and Steve Smith Eccles hold the record for most wins for jockey, both winning three times.

 

Race 5

The fifth race of the Festival Trials Day is Ballymore Classic Novices’ Hurdle which is open for four-year-olds and above. This Grade 2 race lasts for 2.5mi, and horses have to overcome ten hurdles throughout the course. Since the race is open exclusively for novice hurdlers, no horse managed to win it repeatedly. As for the jockeys, both Tony McCoy and Wayne Hutchinson have won it twice. The record holder is Barry Geraghty with three wins.

Race 6

The penultimate event of Festivals Trials Day was named after Cleeve Hill — Gloucestershire’s highest point. It’s a 2mi race open for horses aged five and above. To win the race, a horse must jump over 12 hurdles in the shortest time possible.

Big Buck and Lady Rebecca are the only two horses that have managed to win the race multiple times. Big Buck did that in 2009 and 2012, whereas Lady Rebecca triumphed on three consecutive occasions — between 1999 and 2001. In each of these races, Norman Williamson was riding the seven-time winner at Cheltenham.

Race 7

Steel Plate and Sections Hurdle is the final race of the Festival Trials Day. This Grade 2 race is run on a 2+ miles racecourse. Since this is a handicap-type race, horses must carry the weights while running. The course features eight hurdles, and the participating horses must be four-year-olds or older.

Final Thoughts

Festival Trials Day provides plenty of top-class racing. This gives punters a chance to catch a glimpse of what is to come at the Cheltenham Festival. If you’re a horse racing enthusiast, then you’ll love the whole experience here. If you’re an adept punter, then this event might give you an insight about who will perform well at Cheltenham.

Keep in mind that only a small percentage of the winning horses here actually go on and win Cheltenham. Therefore, make sure you do your research before you place your bets. That aside, Festival Trials Day is a brilliant day full of exciting races and thrilling action.

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