Cheltenham Festival 2023 | Trials Day preview: Your Darling, Ahoy Senor & Lord Accord –

Cheltenham Trials Day has consistently thrown up Festival winners since the turn of the century, and this Saturday's nine-race card looks sure to shine a light on several hopefuls – but who will come out of leftfield?
I’ve been to loads of Trials Days at Cheltenham in January and you always come away from the card thinking you’ve seen a Festival winner or two, and you usually have.
Indeed, since the turn of the century a total of 38 Cheltenham Festival winners had their final start before their big day at Prestbury Park on the Trials Day card with the Cleeve Hurdle proving the Big Daddy of the meeting, finding no fewer than 11 Festival winners in the last 22 years.
Five of them did the Cleeve-Stayers’ Hurdle double, four won the Stayers’ having been beaten in the Cleeve and two beaten horses won the Ultima Handicap Chase – proving Festival winners can come from the more unlikely sources.

The Timeform Novices’ Handicap Chase has been the second-best trial having found eight winners since 2000 and I wouldn’t render the now obsolete Novices’ Handicap Chase at the Festival as evidence that this race will no longer have an impact at Cheltenham in March.
Okay, half of those Festival winners that ran in the Timeform won the Novices’ Handicap less than two months later, but that leaves four horses who won the Cathcart, the National Hunt Chase (when it really was the four-miler), and, more significantly, a Plate Handicap Chase and an Ultima.
The latter duo are the two races the Timeform is still likely to have an impact on and it would be no surprise if it continues to be a race to really take note of despite the unfortunate culling of the Novice Handicap.
The Ballymore trial is in at number three having found five Festival winners this century, although all of them came between 2007 and 2013. Albert Bartlett 3-2 Ballymore tells you it has been a nice stepping stone for those horses going up in trip to three miles in March.
Looks Like Trouble was the last Gold Cup winner to come out of the Cotswold Chase after he won both races in 2000, famously giving it a reputation as a lesser trial.
It has found two Ryanair winners since then, though, in Our Vic and Frodon, so it’s actually on a par with the Triumph Trial which has only thrown up three Triumph Hurdle winners since 2000 (Katchit, Peace And Co and Defi Du Seuil – for some I reason I thought it’d performed better than that).
The handicaps have thrown up the odd winner, too. In 2014 Lac Fontana won the Steel Plate and Sections Handicap Hurdle before going on to win the County, while what is this year the ‘Paddy Power Cheltenham Countdown Podcast Handicap Chase’ has found a couple of Plate winners in Siruh Du Lac and Coole Cody at recent Festivals.
That’s the originally scheduled seven races covered but this year we have an eighth and a ninth including the rerouted Grade 1 Clarence House Chase from Ascot.

Fun fact: The Clarence House has been switched to Trials Day at Cheltenham three times this century and it has found four Festival winners; Thisthatandtother, who won the Ryanair in 2003, Sprinter Sacre, who won the Champion Chase in 2013, and Un De Sceaux and Special Tiara, who won the Ryanair and Champion Chase in 2017 respectively, having won and finished fifth on Trials Day.
Also rescheduled to this card, from Cheltenham’s November meeting, is the Cross Country Handicap Chase. On the 2017 Trials Day the same thing happened and Gordon Elliott’s Cause Of Causes finished fifth in the handicap before going on to win the Festival Cross Country in March.
This Saturday promises to provide a rich source of Festival fancies, then, and while some horses, possibly Energumene in this year’s re-routed Clarence House, will only solidify their already obvious Festival chance, there will be some that use this weekend to announce themselves on the Cheltenham stage…
Perhaps I felt the Triumph Trial had performed better than it has because of all the horses that won this race who were swiftly made Triumph favourites – the likes of Apple’s Shakira and Fakir D’Oudairies spring to mind. Saturday’s winner looks likely to receive a hefty Festival price slash too, although if Comfort Zone wins and boosts Lossiemouth’s form then maybe not.
It’s another son of Churchill who might capture the imagination if he wins, though, as Milton Harris’ Scriptwriter has looked good in two starts over hurdles and giving 9lb and a beating to Winter Derby possible Base Note at Wolverhampton looks a seriously tasty bit of all-weather form. The Triumph market is still unsure about him as a genuine contender, but if he goes in again here the evidence is stacking up and he could be next best behind the Willie Mullins pair come Saturday lunchtime.
Several of Ben Pauling’s horses have benefitted since he moved to his new training facility at Naunton Downs Golf Club and one that showcased his new self as early as the first tee was Your Darling who hosed up first time out at Ascot in October.
He couldn’t back that up at Kempton at Christmas when upped in trip to three miles, but back at the intermediate distance in Saturday’s extended 2m4f handicap chase he gets the chance to prove himself at Cheltenham having pulled up on his only previous start at the track. He looks a different horse this season, however, and a bold showing will likely be needed if connections have ambitions of getting him in the Plate.
It’s less than a year since Ahoy Senor slammed Noble Yeats in the Towton Novices’ Chase at Wetherby and after that he was a very good second to L’Homme Presse at the Festival before he gained Grade 1 success at Aintree.
Things haven’t gone so well for him this season, but the 66/1 about him for the Gold Cup in contrast to the best of 7/1 about Noble Yeats for the same race still seems an unnecessarily drastic reaction and there have been excuses for Lucinda Russell’s horse: he was too fresh and keen on his seasonal reappearance at Wetherby, he made mistakes at Aintree and yet was only beaten three and a half lengths by Noble Yeats, and then right-handed Kempton at Christmas was not his track.
His Brown Advisory second is evidence he likes Cheltenham and a Cotswold comeback is far from out of the question.
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I’m already thinking there might be a lack of a gallop on in the Cleeve Hurdle. Dashel Drasher likes to make the running, but he’s hardly proven over three miles and might be restrained to get the trip. You know what I’m thinking – this might not be run to suit Paisley Park, and in that scenario we could have a surprise on our hands.
Molly Ollys Wishes intrigues me. She was trained for last weekend, first choice Ascot second choice Lingfield, only for both meetings to be called off. But she’ll be fit and firing and with her mares’ allowance she gets 7lb from Paisley Park, which will help.
Tactically, she’s the type who would benefit from sitting prominent off a muddling pace and if she runs a big race here, she won’t be 80/1 for the Mares’ Hurdle for long.
The Timeform Novices’ Handicap Chase could well throw up an Ultima possible or two but the likes of Mister Coffey have other weekend entries, in his case the Sky Bet Chase, while it remains to be seen who comes over from Ireland.
For an Ultima market move keep an eye on Neil Mulholland’s Lord Accord in the Cleeve, as he looked in great nick at Cheltenham and Wincanton earlier in the season before his good form came to an end in the Coral Gold Cup. Saved for the spring after that, it’s no surprise to see him having his big handicap chase prep in the Cleeve, a regime that worked so well for The Druids Nephew in 2015 (fifth in the Cleeve, won the Ultima at 8/1), also for Mulholland.
*Odds best available via oddschecker at 1000GMT on 25/01/2023
January 18 – Can Dan Skelton step up at this year’s Festival?
January 11 – Who is Willie’s Sporting Life Arkle number one?
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