Cheltenham Festival Trials Day Meeting

Cheltenham racecourse festival trials day

Cheltenham Racecourse is the location for a number of top-class meetings throughout the year. The Cheltenham Open, which has been renamed as the November Meeting in recent years, is widely considered to be the start of the jump racing season. New Year’s Day sees the racecourse throw open its doors for a family friendly occasion, before the entire horse racing community begins to get ready for one of the most important meetings in the calendar - the Cheltenham Festival. That takes place in March of every year and is the envy of the majority of racecourses around the country, if not the world. The highlight of the Festival is the Gold Cup, the Grade One race that is run on the final day of the meeting. Before we can get to this big event, however, there’s one more occasion that sees visitors flock to this racecourse in Gloucestershire.

The last Saturday in January sees Cheltenham Racecourse play host to a day that can give bookies, punters and trainers alike a clue about which horses are going to perform the best just two months later. Festival Trials Day is, for many of the horses, the last time they’ll have a competitive run before the main event. It’s also a chance for the racecourse’s owners and organisers to ensure that everything runs nice and smoothly for the visiting public. But what does the day entail? What should you prepare yourself for if you’re going to be heading along to racecourse to watch the action? Perhaps most importantly of all, which races are run that day and what can they all tell you about how horses may perform come the Festival proper? This is the page that will give you all of that information.

Festival Trials Day Meeting Race Card

festival trials day graphic

The weather in January won’t just affect your clothing choice. There’s at least a slight chance that it will cause problems for race organisers if horses are delayed getting into the racecourse thanks to wet or frosty weather. Presuming that that doesn’t happen, the following is a look at when each race is meant to go off.

We’ve also given you some additional information, such as last year’s winners and, where appropriate, which race in the Festival the Trials Day event can tell you about:

Race 1 - Finesse Juvenile Novices' Hurdle - 12.40pm

12 40pm

Festival Trials Day doesn’t mess around when it comes to the order of the races, getting things started with a real bang. Known as the JCB Triumph Hurdle, this is a Grade 2 race that take place on the Cheltenham New Course. It’s for novice hurdlers and lasts for two miles and one-hundred and seventy-nine yards (2m, 179y). There are eight hurdles to be jumped during the course of the race and it’s open to four-year-olds only.

First established in 1985, this is the race that people watch to get some indications about the Triumph Hurdle in the Festival proper. Don’t be lulled into thinking that the winner of this is nailed on to win the Triumph Hurdle, however - only two horses have done the double at the time of writing. Katchit pulled that off in 2007 before Defi Du Seuil repeated the trick in 2017. Robert Thornton managed three back-to-back wins in 2007, 2008 and 2009, having already won the race in 2003. That makes him the race’s joint-best jockey with Barry Geraghty, who has also won it four times.

2018 Winners

  • Horse - Apple's Shakira
  • Jockey - Barry Geraghty
  • Trainer - Nicky Henderson
  • Overall Prize Pot - £32,000
  • Winner Prize Money - £18,224

Race 2 - Timeform Novices' Handicap Chase - 1.15pm

1 15pm

Lasting for two miles, four furlongs and one-hundred and sixty-six yards (2m, 4f, 166y), the Novices’ Handicap Chase is, as the name suggests, a handicap race for novice chasers. As with the other races on Festival Trials Day, it takes place on the New Course at Cheltenham. It had seventeen fences that must be negotiated and is a Class 2 race.

Open for five-year-olds and older, there are no weight restrictions in place on account of the fact that this is a handicap race. There are a number of handicap chases during the Festival that this race could tell you something about, most notably the Novices' Handicap Chase on Day One of the meeting.

2018 Winners,

  • Horse - Mister Whitaker
  • Jockey - A. P. Heskin
  • Trainer - Mick Channon
  • Overall Prize Pot - £27,500
  • Winner Prize Money - £17,204

Race 3 - Trophy Handicap Chase - 1.50pm

1 50pm

Known as the Murphy Group Chase until 2004, this Grade 3 steeplechase was established in 1993 and was briefly sponsored by a free bets website from 2014 until 2016. It is run over two miles, four furlongs and one-hundred and sixty-six yards (2m, 4f, 66y). It features seventeen fences and is open to horses aged five and over. As with the race that came before, race number three on Festival Trials Day is a handicap endeavour.

The race achieved Listed status back in 2002, back when it had the title of the Ladbroke Trophy Chase, being upgraded to Grade 3 three years later. Three horses have won the race more than once, all of them after the turn of the millennium. The Sawyer won back-to-back races in 2009 and 2010, with Wishfull Thinking winning in 2011 and 2014. Annacotty also had back-to-back victories in 2015 and 2016, interestingly with different jockeys and trainers on both occasions.

In terms of jockeys, Norman Williamson has managed two wins, whilst Richard Johnson added a win on Young Spartacus to his victories with Wishful Thinking. Philip Hobbs was the trainer of both of the horses that Johnson won on, making him the most successful trainer thanks to those three wins. Bob Buckler, The Sawyers trainer, is the only other person to win the race more than once.

2018 Winners

  • Horse - Frodon
  • Jockey - Bryony Frost
  • Trainer - Paul Nicholls
  • Overall Prize Pot - £75,000
  • Winner Prize Money - £42,712

Race 4 - BetBright Trial Cotswold Chase - 2.25pm

2 25pm

This Grade 2 race is open to horses aged five and over. It lasts for three miles and one and a half furlongs (3m, 1f, 56y), with twenty-one fences to be jumped during that time. In many ways this is the feature race of the day, serving as something of a pointer race for the Gold Cup that will be run during the Festival. Don’t be surprised, therefore, if you see countless people studying the form guide and making notes on the outcome. If the winner doesn’t do well in the Gold Cup then consider it for the Grand National, with Many Clouds winning this one in 2015 before finishing first in the Aintree race later that year.

In terms of previous winners, ‘Abandoned because of frost’ has its name in the record books the most times as it happened in 1987, 1992 and 1996. As for the horses, the aforementioned Many Clouds had two victories before sadly passing away after winning the race in 2017. See More Business is the only other horse to win it more than once, with victories coming in 1998 and 2001. A number of jockeys have won it more than once, including Colin Brown and Leighton Aspell, but it’s Steve Smith Eccles and Tony McCoy who share the honour of most wins for a jockey with three apiece.

There’s no question that there’s one stand-out leader when it comes to trainers, despite the fact that both David Elsworth Oliver Sherwood have both been behind two victories in the race. That is nothing when compared to Paul Nicholls’s four wins, however. He was behind both of See More Business’s victories as well as Taranis in 2010 and Neptune Collonges the following year. The latter then went on to become another horse to win the Grand National after the Cotswold Chase, doing so in 2012. You might think there’d be more multiple winners of a race that was first run in 1980 as the Tote Double Chase but there you go.

2018 Winners

  • Horse - Definitly Red
  • Jockey - Danny Cook
  • Trainer - NBrian Ellison
  • Overall Prize Pot - £100,000
  • Winner Prize Money - £56,950

Race 5 - Classic Novices' Hurdle - 3pm

3pm

This Grade 2 hurdle race is for horses four-years-old and above. It lasts for two miles and four and a half furlongs (2m, 4f, 56y), with ten hurdles for the horses to negotiate during that distance. As the name suggests, the race is for novice hurdlers, meaning that no horse has won it more than once. When it comes to jockeys, both Wayne Hutchinson and Tony McCoy have won it twice, but the standout leader is Barry Geraghty with his three victories.

When it comes to talking about successful trainers, it’s interesting to note that only two of them have won it more than once and they’ve both won it three times. Alan King won it for the first time with Batonnier in 2012 before registering back-to-back victories in 2015 and 2016, whilst Nicky Henderson first won it in 2008 then did so again three years later before claiming his third victory in 2018. First run in 2005, this race can be seen as a precursor to the Novices Hurdle that takes place during the week of the Cheltenham Festival. Wichita Lineman and Bobs Worth are two horses that have managed that double, for example.

2018 Winners

  • Horse - Santini
  • Jockey - Jeremiah McGrath
  • Trainer - Nicky Henderson
  • Overall Prize Pot - £32,000
  • Winner Prize Money - £18,224

Race 6 - Cleeve Hurdle - 3.35pm

3 35pm

The penultimate race of Festival Trials Day is the Cleeve Hurdle, named after the highest point in Gloucestershire, Cleeve Hill. It is a Grade 2 race that lasts for two miles, seven furlongs and two-hundred and thirteen yards (2m, 7f, 13y). It is open to horses aged five and over and normally features a field of about ten competitors. There are twelve hurdles that the horses will need to get over if they’re hoping to be in the lead when they cross the finish line.

Established in 1983, it earned Listed status by the end of that decade and was had the full title of the Bishops Cleeve Hurdle. It became a Grade 1 race in 1991 and then downgraded to Grade 2 back in 2004. Originally ran over two miles, five furlongs and one-hundred and ten yards, the length was extended in 2005. Horses that do well in this race tend to go on to compete in the Stayers' Hurdle during the Festival, with the most obvious examples of horses to do the double being Big Buck’s, Inglis Drever and Thistlecrack.

Only two horses have ever won this race more than once, with Big Buck’s getting two wins in 2009 and 2012, well after Lady Rebecca’s three wins in a row between 1999 and 2001. Lady Rebecca’s jockey on all three occasions was Norman Williamson, who also won on Mudahim in 1995 to make him the race’s most successful jockey. Richard Johnson, Ruby Walsh, Tom Scudamore and Tony McCoy have all won the race twice.

When it comes to trainers and their relative success in this race, Alan King, David Elsworth, Howard Johnson and Nick Williams have all managed two wins over the years. There are two trainers who have gone one better than all of them though, given that both Paul Nicholls and Venetia Williams have both managed hat-tricks of wins. If you wanted to be picky you could point out that Williams’s wins all came with lady Rebecca, whilst Nicholls managed his with both Big Buck’s and Saphir Du Rheu.

2018 Winners

  • Horse - Agrapart
  • Jockey - Lizzie Kelly
  • Trainer - Nick Williams
  • Overall Prize Pot - £60,000
  • Winner Prize Money - £34,170

Race 7 - Handicap Hurdle - 4.05pm

4 05

Festival Trials Day definitely ends with a bang rather than a whimper, courtesy of this Class 2 race that takes place over two miles and one-hundred and seventy-nine yards (2m, 179y). The race is another handicap affair, meaning that horses carry the weights dictated to them by the handicapper.

There are eight hurdles that they’ll need to cope with if they’re hoping to get home the quickest, with entrants for the race needing to be four or over. The field normally consists of around ten horses, so you’ll be able to get a real sense of which of them can cope with running alongside other animals in a high-profile environment.

2018 Winners

  • Horse - Remiluc
  • Jockey - Harry Reed
  • Trainer - Chris Gordon
  • Overall Prize Pot - £27,500
  • Winner Prize Money - £17,204

What To Expect On New Year's Day at Cheltenham

festival trails day

Depending on what day you head along to Cheltenham Racecourse, you’re likely to encounter an entirely different sort of crowd. Turn up on St. Patrick’s Day, for example, and you’ll no doubt notice the influence of Irish guests, who have long held an affinity with the track. Choose New Year’s Day as the day to go and the vibe will be far more children orientated, with games for youngsters to play and areas for them to enjoy whilst their parents get stuck into the racing. Festival Trials Day will see you encounter a crowd that’s far more racing savvy, with a more dedicated group of racegoers hoping to pick up some tips or spot something that the bookmakers haven’t ahead of the Festival proper. There will obviously be more than a few people who are just there for the fun of it all, but of the various meetings hosted by Cheltenham Racecourse throughout the year, this is the one that attracts people who take their racing very seriously.

In terms of who else you might see around the place, celebrity spotting is in short supply. There are naturally a few well-known faces who are serious about their racing, with sporting stars like Michael Owen and Alex Ferguson springing to mind, but the Cheltenham Festival is when celebrities who are mainly interested in being in the paper turn up in Gloucestershire. Festival Trials Day doesn’t appeal as much in that sense, so the stars are undoubtedly more likely to be on the running track than in the stands. There are stalls and shops open for those of you that are as interested in what happens off the racecourse than on it, giving you ample opportunity to spend some money and buy yourself something to wear for if you return in March. Trials Day is often slightly quieter than at other points in the year, so you might well find that you’re able to track down some trainers or owners to ask them some questions, if you’re feeling brave enough!

Another reason why Trails Day isn’t the most popular time of the year for celebrities to visit Cheltenham is that the weather is still decidedly cold. You’ll want to ensure that you wrap up warm and wear a hat to keep your head toasty, else you might find yourself heading indoors earlier than expected to warm-up, thereby missing the action. If you’re lucky you’ll encounter some nice, crisp weather. Generally speaking, though, it’s likely to be wet and miserable and so wearing something that will keep you dry will be a sensible a decision. Make sure you buy yourself a race card and take a pen with you - you’ll be wanting to make a note of the horses that perform well in preparation for making some bets on the Festival proper. This is your last chance to get some real clues about which horses or types of horse can cope with Cheltenham Racecourse’s demanding track, so make sure you take advantage of it.

Final Thoughts

There is plenty of top-class racing on offer on Festival Trials Day, giving punters a chance to experience the thrills and spills of Cheltenham without attending the racecourse on one of the more popular days, such as those that take place during the Festival. If you’re a horse racing enthusiast then you’ll love the whole experience, whilst if you’re a serious bettor then this will give the opportunity to give yourself a real heads up about who might perform well at the year’s most important meeting.

Do be aware that only a small percentage of the winning horses actually go on and win at the Festival, so make sure you stretch out any bets you place to cover the full season. It’s a brilliant day that’s full of exciting races and all the action you could wish to see.