What National trials are there to look for at Cheltenham?
The wait is very nearly over for another four glorious days at Prestbury Park. The Cheltenham Festival is just around the corner, which usually means all the Grand National hopefuls are stored away to wait for their turn in the limelight.
The general consensus is the Festival is rarely a place to run your trial for the Grand National, however this is far from the case. In the modern era it has become an established meeting to also unearth a National winner or one who runs a mighty effort in defeat, with a handful of races standing out in particular.
Here are a few that now have a rich history and should have an eye kept on them this year, which may provide another Aintree hopeful.
The Cross-Country Chase has a relatively short history given its inception only came in 2005, although over the past three years it has stepped up markedly as a Grand National trial.
The unique three-mile six-furlong test has certainly been put on the map thanks to Tiger Roll, with the legendary nine-year-old landing this race for the past two years before famously going on to follow up at Aintree the next month.
Las year’s race stands out the most, with the diminutive gelding romping to an easy victory under Keith Donoghue to become the first horse to win back-to-back Nationals since Red Rum.
The 2017 renewal saw Cause Of Causes claim victory before finishing a gallant second on Merseyside, and with Tiger Roll back for a historic treble triumph in this and the National, it would be no shock if it is another standout trial again.
Cheltenham Gold Cup:
As expected, the gruelling demands of the blue riband in recent years has not led to a host of Grand National winners but it has got on the scorecard as a trial.
Famously, Many Clouds was fancied to go close in the 2015 renewal before finishing mid-field, however that proved to be a blessing in disguise as he went on to record a famous weight-carrying victory three weeks later.
One horse over the past two years has also used this as a stepping stone to Aintree, with Anibale Fly finishing third and runner-up before going on to place in the Grand National.
Only one horse in the modern era has come close to completing a famous double, with Hedgehunter finishing runner-up in both races in 2006.
The Pertemps Final may be a handicap hurdle but it has proven itself to be a useful contest for National hopefuls aiming to protect their chasing mark.
Dr Richard Newland used the unique method of qualifying for the contest back in 2014 when Pineau De Re was down the field in the Pertemps final before gaining Aintree Glory under Leighton Aspell.
Don’t Push It performed even worse back in 2010 when he pulled up in the three-mile contest, but famously made amends on Merseyside to give AP McCoy his one and only Grand National triumph.
Kim Muir Handicap Chase:
The ‘trial’ races at the Festival are beginning to scrape the barrel but the Kim Muir deserves an honourable mention.
Despite not winning the National until 2011, Ballabriggs set himself on the path to Aintree glory with a gutsy success in this race back in 2010 and the rest as they say… is history.
It was a tale of ecstasy then heartbreak in 2012. Sunnyhillboy hit the high with a stylish success in the three-mile two-furlong chase, but followed that with an agonising low when losing out in the Grand National by a nose to Neptune Collonges, which still remains the narrowest losing margin in National history.