WITH less than 50 days to go until the Cheltenham Festival, the finishing touches are gradually being put together, as trainers look to get their preparations spot on to have their elite performers in tip-top condition for the ‘Greatest Show On Turf’, which begins on the 11th March and Saturday’s Festival Trials Day will give the final opportunity for horses to test their resolve around the undulations of Prestbury Park, whilst at the same time, offering punters some potentially vital clues.
A seven race card will ooze intrigue from start to finish at the Gloucestershire track, but the box office star on what will be an informative afternoon is Big Buck’s, who makes his hotly-anticipated return to the racecourse after 420 days off, and the four-times Ladbrokes World Hurdle winner will be aiming to return with a bang and land the Grade Two Cleeve Hurdle.
The dominant force in staying hurdles over the last few years, Paul Nicholls’ superstar will face arguably his toughest of his career as he looks to add to his magnificent streak of 18 wins on the spin. Not only is the eleven-year-old coming back from a 14 month layoff but he will also have to show he still possesses the class that saw him win four World Hurdle crowns for new jokey, Sam Twiston-Davies, who will don the famous black, red and white colours of his owners, the Stewart family, for the first time.
Big Buck’s is a best price 5/6 chance for Saturday’s Cleeve Hurdle with Paddy Power, but he will have to get the better of some notable rivals, including Reve De Sivola, who won this race 12 months ago and duly stormed to victory in the Long Walk Hurdle last time out, whilst At Fishers Cross and Boston Bob will add great depth to an absorbing renewal.
It could be a memorable day for the Nicholls camp as they also saddle Rocky Creek in the Argento Chase as the eight-year-old looks to potentially fire his name into the Cheltenham Gold Cup picture, but he will have to reverse the Hennessy Gold Cup form with Nicky Henderson’s Triolo D’alene ,who is also set to line up at the Gloucestershire venue.
Elsewhere on the card, Vicenzo Mio will look to kick off the meeting in winning fashion for the strong Nicholls team and he will be one of the shining beacons in the JCB Triumph Hurdle Trial, that kicks off the meeting at 12:40pm and has been won by some familiar names in recent years including former Triumph and Champion Hurdle winner, Katchit.
The David Pipe trained Red Sherlock is expected to take his place in the Neptune Investment Management Novices’ Hurdle at 3:00pm and a victory here would cement his place in the higher echelons of the ante-post betting for the race of the same name in March, for which he is currently rated a 16/1 chance.
A handful of Graded races twinned with some ultra-competitive handicaps is what has come to be expected from a glittering Cheltenham Trials Day and Saturday’s exciting afternoon of action should not only provide some top quality racing, but may also give punters some major form snippets to mull over during the next few weeks before as the Festival edges ever closer.
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