Cheltenham Festival hopefuls going on trial – the leading horses to look out for

13 Nov 2019 | Sport
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Defi du Seuil is among several high-profile Cheltenham Festival horses set to strut their stuff in key trials at the three-day November meeting at the home of jumps racing.

The Philip Hobbs trained six-year-old is set to make his seasonal reappearance in the Grade 2 Shloer chase on Sunday, November 17 (2.25pm) - a 2m  contest which has an illustrious roll of honour and was won in 2015 by dual Queen Mother Champion Chase winner Sprinter Sacre.

Defi du Seuil was a top-class juvenile hurdler in 2017 when unbeaten in seven starts. Those successes included victory in the Grade 1 Triumph Hurdle at the 2017 Cheltenham Festival.

The JP McManus owned gelding looked a chasing in the making and after Since failing to shine on debut over fences at this meeting, really got his act together over the larger obstacles and progressed at a rate of knots.

After bearing subsequent RSA winner Topofthegame by 3 1/2 lengths over 2m 3f at Exeter, he lost little in defeat when getting beat just over a length by Lostintranslation in the Grade 2 Dipper at Cheltenham when attempting to give the winner 3lb.

Defi Du Seuil the gained his revenge on that rival when staying on strongly to beat him by three-quarters of a length in the Grade 1 Scilly Isles Novices' Chase at Sandown.

Impressive in JLT

He then enjoyed his finest hour over fences when landing the Grade 1 JLT over 2m 4f at this year's  Cheltenham Festival by a comfortable 2 1/4 lengths, before rounding off the campaign with a solid second in a Grade 1 at the Punchestown Festival where his cause wasn't helped by a bad mistake three from home.

This race looks like the ideal starting point for what promises to be another highly successful season for Defi du Seuil who is versatile as regard trip having won over 2m and 2m 4f.

Should all go to plan he has the options of either the Queen Mother Champion Chase of the Ryanair Chase at the 2020 Cheltenham Festival. With reigning champion Altior set to go up in trip and more than likely serve the former, connections may well be tempted to have a crack at the two-mile contest with the strong travelling and classy Defi du Seuil. >>

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Al Dancer looking to follow-up in Arkle Trial

Sunday's card also features the Grade 2 Arkle Trial Novices' Chase run over 2m (2.25pm). Having waltzed to an impressive success on debut over the larger obstacles, Al Dancer is likely to be all the rage to go in again.

This Nigel Twiston-Davies trained six-year-old won four of his five starts over hurdles last term.They included impressive victories in handicap company at The International meeting here in December where he cruised clear to easily beat Not That Fuisse by 11 lengths.

Then landed an almighty gamble in the valuable and rearranged Grade 3 Betfair Hurdle at Ascot and that success saw him sent off joint-second favourite for the Grade 1 Supreme Novices' Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival.

However, he ran well below par to finish a 34-length 10th of 16 to Klassical Dream and it may well have been the case off the race coming too soon after his Ascot exertions (more on the Royal Ascot event here).

Al Dancer appealed as the type to make up into a very smart chaser, and that view was confirmed in no uncertain fashion when he landed the 2m Novices' Chase at The Showcase meeting here last month.

After making a mistake at the third, the Dai Walters owned gelding soon tracked leaders travelling well under Sam Twiston-Davies

He then took up the running approaching the home turn and after a fine jump at the stayed on powerfully up the run-in to beat comfortably beat Not That Fuisse by four lengths.

It was a performance which oozed class and Al Dancer has reportedly come on a bundle since and delighted his handler who has made no secret that the Arkle Trophy at next year's Cheltenham Festival is the long-term target for him.

This will confirm if Al Dancer, is indeed, a live contender for that Grade 1 contest.

Thyme Hill out to enhance Ballymore claims

Top class bumper performer Thyme Hill made an impressive start over the obstacles when landing the Grade 2 Persian War Novices' Hurdle at Chepstow and will bid  to further enhance his 2020 Cheltenham Festival claims in the 2m 5f Grade 2 Ballymore Novices' Hurdle that brings proceedings to a close on Friday (3.15pm)

The Philip Hobbs trained five-year-old, who had finished a fine 2 3/4 length third of 14 to Envoi Allen in the Grade 1 Champion Bumper at this year's Cheltenham Festival when last seen in action, showed real battling qualities to beat Colin Tizzard’s well-regarded Fiddlerontheroof.

Thyme Hill looked in trouble two from home when the pace quickened, but jockey Richard Johnson didn't panic and brought him with strong run approaching the final flight.

The son of Kayf Tara then dug deep to hit the front 150 yards from home and win going away at the line by two lengths.

It was a most taking introduction and one which suggested that Thymme Hill, who looked as if he would come on for the run in the paddock beforehand, could be destined for the top as a stayer over hurdles and needing keeping formly onside this season.

As the name of this race would suggest, it is one of the main trails for the Ballymore itself at the Cheltenham Festival next March. Therefore, should Thyme Hill land the spoils he would this confirm himself a leading contender for that Grade 1 contest run over 2m 5f.