There can be little doubt that further Festival clues will be revealed on Saturday, as Cheltenham hold the meeting known as Trials Day. Trainers often target this weekend as it enables a favourable six week break for their equine stars before the ‘big one’ in March.
The meeting rarely fails to deliver. On Trials Day in 2007 the race now known as The Neptune Investment Management Novices’ Hurdle, was won by Wichita Lineman. He defeated Tidal Bay, with Massini’s Maguire back in third. The winner made a successful return to Prestbury Park in the 3m novice hurdle (now the Albert Bartlett) at that year’s Festival, whilst Massini’s Maguire beat Tidal Bay into second in the 2m5f novice hurdle (now the Neptune).
The same Trials Day renewal in 2011 saw Bobs Worth defeat Rock On Ruby. The former went on to win the Albert Bartlett whilst the latter was pipped at the post in the Neptune. And who could forget last season’s race when At Fishers Cross outfought The New One in a thrilling finish. Both went on to glory at The Festival, in the Albert Bartlett and Neptune respectively.
The quality of this trial race over the years is undeniable. Future Gold Cup, Champion Hurdle and Arkle winners have come from the race. It’s interesting to note that the winner was often stepped up in trip when the Festival arrived whilst defeated horses often continued along the 2m5f route.
This year’s renewal may lack a truly eye-catching entrant, yet still looks likely to be contested by top stables including Willie Mullins, Nicky Henderson and David Pipe. Indeed, the undefeated Red Sherlock is arguably one of the Pipe team’s potential stars.
Another horse of great interest is Nick Williams Aubusson. He won over course and distance on New Years’ Day and had a very strong field behind him. The likely soft or even heavy ground on Saturday is sure to suit, and I would anticipate a big run from this talented youngster.
Whatever the outcome, several names are certain to enter the notebook with a view to the Festival in March. If history is anything to go by, this ‘Neptune’ trial will again guide us to future Cheltenham stars.