In the world of horse racing, the most prestigious races are popular for trainers and owners to try to get their horses involved. The big question that owners and trainers need an answer to is whether or not their horses are actually good enough to compete, with plenty of punters and bookmakers also wanting an answer to that question.
One way of finding out is by getting their horses to run in events that bear similarities to the main events. Those races are known as trials, offering an opportunity for horses to be tested at a level in order to offer information to those responsible for racing them. They are good races for bettors to watch to get some idea of what might happen next.
Trial Races At Cheltenham Racecourse
Supreme Trial Novices' Hurdle
The Sharp Novices' Hurdle
|2m 87y||Grade 2||£44,195|
November Novices' Chase
|1m 7f 199y||Grade 2||£48,224|
JCB Triumph Trial Juvenile Hurdle
The Prestbury Juvenile Hurdle
|2m 87y||Grade 2||£49,185|
|JCB Triumph Trial Juvenile Hurdle||2m 179y||Class 2 Hurdle||£24,593|
|Trial Cotswold Chase||3m 1f 56y||Grade 2||£115,248|
|JCB Triumph Trial Juvenile Hurdle||2m 179y||Grade 2||£59,022|
About Trial Races
The title of this race type explains everything, with the races being trials for the main event that is due to take place later in the season. Obviously each trial event will be different, depending on the race that it represents. There will be trials for National Hunt flat races, trials for chases and trials for hurdle events, with nothing specific linking them all.
The key thing is that they’re trials for different events, so the length, number of jumps and even the age of the horses that are going to take part in them will differ wildly. Obviously from a punter’s point of view the main thing to remember is that you can learn things from a trial event about the main race, including which horses are likely to perform well.
The Cheltenham Festival has an entire day of trials in its honour, with trials for some of the meeting’s big races. The Cotswold Chase is a good example, seeing as it is a trial race for the Cheltenham Gold Cup. Will horses perform well enough to earn their place in the blue riband event, for example? That’s what owners and trainers will want an answer to.
Major Trial Races
There are plenty of examples of trial races for us to look at. It’s the best way of explaining how the various races can be so different from each other and yet still be classed as a ‘trial race’. As you read through, make sure to note what sort of race they are, what distance they are run over and the age of horse that they are aimed at.
Mentioned already, it makes sense to start with the Cotswold Chase. Run over 3 miles, 1 furlong and 156 yards, it features 21 fences during its running and is open to horses aged 5 and over. Run for the first time in 1980, it is one of the main trials ahead of the Cheltenham Festival’s most prestigious event, the Gold Cup.
Often known by a sponsored title, the race doesn’t directly affect which horses can take part in the Gold Cup. Instead, owners and trainers will use as a way of seeing whether or not horses are ready to take part in the event that happens in March. It is also something of an unofficial trial for the Grand National, with the likes of Neptunes Collonges and Many Clouds winning it before the Aintree race.
Finesse Juvenile Novices’ Hurdle
A National Hunt Grade 2 race that is run over 2 miles and 179 yards, the Finesse Juvenile Novices’ Hurdle is a trial race for the Triumph Hurdle that takes place during the Cheltenham Festival. It is open to horses aged 4 and asks competitors to jump over 8 hurdles before they reach the final stretch.
First run in 1985, winners of the event are considered to be amongst the favourites for the Triumph Hurdle in March. Interestingly, only two horses won the race and then went on to win its related race in the Festival between 1989 and 2020. One was Katchit in 2007 and the other was Defi Du Seuil in 2017.
The Stayers’ Hurdle is one of the biggest races of the Cheltenham Festival, so it’s no surprise that it has a trial race attached to it during Festival Trials week. The Cleeve Hurdle is that race, being a Grade 2 offering and run over 2 miles, 7 furlongs and 213 yards. There are 12 hurdles for racers to contend with if they hope to win it.
The race was inaugurated in 1983 at a shorter distance, being classed as a Listed race during the 1980s. It was promoted to become a Grade 1 race in 1991 and then downgraded to Grade 2 in 2004. It has been run over its current length since 2005 and is the leading trial event ahead of the Stayers’ Hurdle.
Grand National Trial
Run at the Merseyside course of Haydock, the Grand National Trial follows the main event that it represents in being a Grade 3 race. It is run over 3 miles, 4 furlongs and 97 yards and asks competitors to jump 22 fences during the running. Obviously that doesn’t compare to the National itself, but it gives owners and trainers a good idea of their horses.
It was created in 1947 and occurred every year until 1984. At that point there was a break in the race being run, with the Greenall Whitley Gold Cup seeing its length increased in 1991, making it basically the same as the Grand National Trial. That name was taken up again in 1996 and the race has enjoyed numerous sponsors since then.
Champion Hurdle Trial
Another race at Haydock Park is the Champion Hurdle Trial. It is a Grade 2 race and is part of the Road To Cheltenham series. Indeed, it is the final race of the Road To Cheltenham, coming after five others, which are:
- Elite Hurdle at Wincanton Racecourse
- Greatwood Hurdle at Cheltenham Racecourse
- Morgiana Hurdle at Punchestown Racecourse
- Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Newcastle Racecourse
- International Hurdle at Cheltenham Racecourse
They culminate in the Champion Hurdle itself, which is one of the Cheltenham Festival’s feature races. The Trial for it is run over 1 mile, 7 furlongs and 144 yards, with 9 hurdles needing to be jumped. It is open to horses aged 4 and over and the race was run for the first time in 1981.