It’s Trials Day at Cheltenham – and that means a whole host of exciting top-class renewals featuring plenty of big 2019 Festival contenders.
Can Frodon continue his brilliant form under Bryony Frost? Will Birchdale show his class for Nicky Henderson? And who’ll canter to victory in a wide-open Cleeve Hurdle?
We’ve attempted to solve all of the big puzzles at both Cheltenham and Doncaster in our ITV Racing Tips.
There’s still no clear favourite for the Stayers’ Hurdle in March. But we’re expecting 11/1 shot Paisley Park to lay down a big marker ahead of the Festival with victory in the Cleeve Hurdle.
The seven-year-old provided trainer Emma Lavelle with a first Grade 1 success when reeling off a hat-trick in the Long Walk Hurdle at Ascot in December with a mightily impressive display.
Aidan Coleman knows how to get the best out of him. And the highly-progressive Oscar gelding comfortably held market rival West Approach the last time they met.
Take all of that into account and we reckon a fourth win in a row could be forthcoming for the horse named after the home of the late US musician Prince.
There’s plenty to like about Elegant Escape in the Cotswold Chase. Colin Tizzard’s charge is as game as they come and hasn’t finished outside of the frame in any of his last 10 starts.
His form this term is exemplary. A season which began with victory at Sandown has also returned a runner-up berth in the Ladbrokes Trophy and a huge win in the Welsh National.
What does that tell us? Primarily that the seven-year-old is tough as old boots. Not only that, but he excels when it comes to these big slogs.
The same cannot be said for our old favourite Frodon, who is unproven over the distance, and may be best avoided as a result.
All of that makes Elegant Escape a solid pick to continue his excellent form and lay down a potential marker for the Gold Cup.
It’s not all about Cheltenham. That’s why we’re off to Doncaster for our last selection, with Willie Boy tipped to do the business over 3m in a nice open Listed Handicap.
Charlie Longsdon’s raider scored with plenty in hand at Wetherby on Boxing Day to bag his first trip to the winner’s enclosure in just over a year. But that doesn’t tell the whole story.
The eight-year-old has been running well since undergoing a wind-op and switching to Longsdon’s yard in October. His run in the November Gold Cup showed that to perfection.
Our selection was on the premises towards the closing stages only to hit the deck four from home. A subsequent win at Wetherby proves his class.
The step up to 3m is something new for the Tikkanen gelding, but with point-to-point form over the distance and decent ground underfoot, we reckon he can go close here.
ITV Racing tips:
1:50 Cheltenham – Janika
2:05 Doncaster – Truckers Lodge
2:25 Cheltenham – Elegant Escape (NB)
2:40 Doncaster – Chica Buena (each-way)
3:00 Cheltenham – Jarveys Plate
3:15 Doncaster – Willie Boy (Lively Longshot, each-way)
3:35 Cheltenham – Paisley Park (NAP)
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All Odds and Markets correct as of date of publication