Cheltenham Racecourse staged Festival Trials Day on Saturday, January 28; the final fixture at the Home of Jump Racing ahead of The Festival (Tuesday, March 14 to Friday, March 17).
The nine races attracted a record attendance for Festival Trials Day of 22,598, as against 20,785 in 2016.
The official going description was:
Chase and Hurdle Courses: Soft, Good to Soft in places
Cross Country Course: Good to soft, Good in places
GoingStick readings: Chase/Hurdle 6.5, Cross country 7.2 (Saturday at 6.00am)
Race-by-race reports can be found below. The Graded action appears first, followed by the remainder of the nine-race card.
2.15pm £100,000 BetBright Trial Cotswold Chase (Grade 2) 3m 1f 56y
Many Clouds (Oliver Sherwood/Leighton Aspell, 8/1) caused an upset in the G2 BetBright Trial Cotswold Chase when defeating 4/9 favourite Thistlecrack (Colin Tizzard/Tom Scudamore) most gamely by a head, rallying to regain the lead close home, with last year's winner Smad Place (Alan King/Wayne Hutchinson, 7/1) another 17 lengths back in third.
It was the second victory by 10-year-old Many Clouds in the BetBright Trial Cotswold Chase, after success in 2015 and a second place behind Smad Place in 2016
Tragically, Many Clouds, who won the 2015 Grand National at Aintree in a glittering career, collapsed and died shortly after passing the winning post, despite being attended by vets.
Speaking an hour after the race, trainer Oliver Sherwood said: "I've had to have a couple of real stiff drinks to relax myself. I have been in the training game for 34 years and today was both the best and worst scenario.
"I watched the race with Alan King (Smad Place's trainer) and Many Clouds got back to win - I was on a high. My travelling head girl, Lisa, then rang me to say the horse was down. I knew the worst - I had a gut feeling.
"The only thing you can say is that Many Clouds has died doing what he loved - he loved jumping and he loved racing. I have always told everyone, he would die for you and he has gone and died for us, doing what he loved. It happens to us all, we all go at some point. He has gone out on a high.
"He had wobbled after races before and people queried why he raced on, but what do you do with a horse like that? I thought, hand on heart, having had a wind op that he might have been struggling for oxygen and hence the reason we did it. He was better on his first run back at Aintree this season (when successful).
"It was a war of attrition today against what Colin and Joe (Tizzard) and most of the public thought was an unbeatable horse. Clouds wanted it probably a bit more than Thistlecrack did, but has paid for it with his life.
"Horses like Many Clouds don't grow on trees and it is going to be difficult to find a replacement. I have to enjoy the Hennessy and National wins and it was probably a career-best from him today.
"It is very sad for everyone - CJ (Chris Jerdin) who looks after him at home, Lisa my travelling head girl, Stefan, my head man and all the team at Rhonehurst. It is going to very tough having an empty box there tomorrow and on Monday.
"It was spine-chilling walking back down when it was announced and the whole crowd clapped. That finished me completely and I did lose it a bit then. Leighton Aspell is in bits and has gone home.
"Let's enjoy the life of Many Clouds - he was a real wonder horse. He had guts and jumping ability - with that you will always win races."
Nathan Horrocks, who rode Many Clouds in his work at home, commented: "It's a shock. You go from shouting him home to win the race and 10 minutes later he is not with us anymore.
"It's a massive loss to everybody because he wasn't just of huge importance to the yard, he was of huge importance to Lambourn and the sport.
"Honestly, you can't believe the amount of people that come up to us and say 'I hope the horse is well and we are looking forward to him running'. He has really captured the nation.
"That is our sport unfortunately and it makes you love it and hate it at the same time. I saw Tom (Scudamore) coming back down the walkway and I said: 'Hard luck, mate, Clouds has given you a race there' and he was saying: 'I couldn't get past him, he is such a hard, hard horse'.
"That was what great about Many Clouds and that was his downfall as well because he just didn't know when to quit."
This was a first defeat over fences for Thistlecrack and his trainer Colin Tizzard said: "I am so sorry. We were beaten by a better horse on the day. Two lovely horses ran themselves to the line and poor old Many Clouds. Our initial thoughts that we got beat and it was a bit disappointing but this is as sad as can be. Many Clouds was a fantastic, lovely horse.
"Thistlecrack ran his race and we are not making any excuses whatsoever. Today, on winter ground, we were beaten by a better horse - there is no question about that. They went to battle and it's just a tragic end to the race. It's what happens in our sport occasionally and we have to face up to it."
Noel Hayes, director of Sportsbook at sponsor BetBright, added: "After a truly brilliant and heroic performance from Many Clouds, racing has lost a wonderful horse and our thoughts go out to the connections."
1.45pm £70,000 Spectra Cyber Security Solutions Clarence House Chase (Grade 1) 2m 62y
An added bonus on Festival Trials Day this year was the addition of the G1 Spectra Security Solutions Clarence House Chase to the race programme. The two-mile contest was rescheduled following its abandonment at Ascot on January 21 because of frost.
The race went the way of Un De Sceaux (Willie Mullins IRE/Ruby Walsh, 1/2 Fav) who powered home by an impressive five lengths from Uxizandre (Alan King/Barry Geraghty, 12/1), who made a pleasing return to action on his first start since capturing the 2015 Ryanair Chase at The Festival. Third horse home, Top Gamble (Kerry Lee/Davy Russell, 5/1), was another two and three-quarter lengths adrift.
Un De Sceaux took the lead after the ninth fence and there was never any real doubt about the result, with the nine-year-old relishing the underfoot conditions. This was a sixth victory at G1 level for Un De Sceaux.
Ruby Walsh said: "Fair play to the horse. He has had to travel to England last week to run at Ascot, which was called off, then go home, do a bit of work and then travel back again.
"It's not just like travelling humans - it can be hard on them and it's a testament to the horse that he was able to do it.
"He was long at the second-last fence but you let him at it, he knows what he wants to do. He was good at the third-last - he got really tight to it when he was charging down on my hands.
"A lot will depend on the ground at The Festival. When the ground got quick here last March, he didn't quite have the pace for the Queen Mother Champion Chase but it is a bit easier on ground like that. He keeps going that gallop on ground like that and it makes it more difficult for the others.
"We will have to see what happens but he is more vulnerable on quick ground. On soft ground, he is very difficult to beat."
4.00pm £60,000 galliardhomes.com Cleeve Hurdle (Grade 2) 2m 7f 213y
Unowhatimeanharry (Harry Fry/Barry Geraghty, 10/11 Fav) justified favouritism in the G2 galliardhomes.com Cleeve Hurdle to cement his position at the head of the market for the Sun Bets Stayers' Hurdle at The Festival (St Patrick's Thursday, March 16).
The J P McManus-owned nine-year-old was always travelling well and took up the running after the final flight to overhaul long-time leader Cole Harden (Warren Greatrex/Gavin Sheehan, 20/1), the 2015 Stayers' Hurdle hero.
The winning distance was a length and three-quarters with the novice West Approach (Colin Tizzard/Ruby Walsh, 14/1) staying on well to take third, a further length and a half in arrears.
Harry Fry commented: "Unowhatimeanharry was giving weight to a lot of the field, certainly the principals in the run to the line. Barry looked very confident coming down the hill and I suppose the horse has done usual trick of thinking he has done enough when he hit the front.
"That is probably why he is on such a sequence - he keeps a bit in reserve. I am absolutely delighted and, all being well he is OK tomorrow, we can roll on to March.
"He is exactly the same at home. If you worked him with a 100 rated horse or a 140-plus rated horse, he would go a length up on them and stop. If he went out there and won by 20 lengths all the time, the gas would run out sooner or later. He does what he needs to and knows where the winning line is. If we can keep that pattern going, we will be happy.
"Barry was delighted with how he travelled on the ground today. He has won on good ground in the Albert Bartlett and it was pretty soft, tacky ground today so he is pretty versatile. Barry was enthusing about how well he went today so, if it's on the slow side at The Festival, even better.
"No doubt there will be something in Ireland fancying their chances in the Stayers' Hurdle and I know that Warren Greatrex is looking forward to a rematch with Cole Harden.
"It's six and a half weeks away, it's another day and anything can happen. We won't rest on our laurels and hopefully we can get Unowhatimeanharry there in similar form and look forward to the day."
Barry Geraghty added: "He has a lovely, laid-back attitude. He carried me really well through the race, got me there early enough and I would say he dossed a bit when he got to the front.
"Unowhatimeanharry keeps beating what you put in front of him and he keeps beating them by the same margin - two or three lengths. He only does as much as he has to. He is one of those types that probably slips under the radar a bit and might not get the recognition he deserves for that reason.
"Harry has done a brilliant job with him. His horses have been in great form all season and it is a brilliant set-up."
12.00pm £30,000 JCB Triumph Trial Juvenile Hurdle (Grade 2) 2m 179y
The opening G2 JCB Triumph Trial Juvenile Hurdle went the way of 1/5 favourite Defi Du Seuil (Philip Hobbs/Barry Geraghty), who made it five from five over hurdles with a very comfortable nine-length success over Rainbow Dreamer (Alan King/Wayne Hutchinson, 6/1).
The defection of Charli Parcs, owned like the winner by J P McManus, saw Barry Geraghty take over the ride on Defi Du Seuil, who was winning for the third time at the Home of Jump Racing.
Always travelling well within himself, Defi Du Seuil tracked long-time leader Rainbow Dreamer before taking the lead ahead of the final flight and going right away on the run-in.
Philip Hobbs said: "There was no pace early on and only a few runners - Barry was probably just playing safe anyway - and I am delighted that everything went all right in the end.
"He has only ever run on soft ground, which he copes with well, but I don't think good ground would be against him as well.
"He is a fantastic horse at home, so straightforward and easy, and massively tough. He takes everything so well - takes his racing well and eats well - and just very, very straightforward.
"I don't think he will run again before The Festival and go straight there now."
Barry Geraghty added: "The ground is hard work. It's tacky and he jumped OK but I know that he can jump better. A horse crossed me at the first, which didn't help, but he pinged the last on his previous two runs here - it wasn't an option to ping it today because the ground is hard work. With an older horse, you wouldn't feel the ground so much but, on a juvenile, it is not ideal.
"He is very happy on good to soft or easy round but, the way he travels, picks up and jumps, I would say that he would be fine on genuine good ground. He has loads of experience and loads of bottle."
3.25pm £30,000 G2 Neptune Investment Management Classic Novices' Hurdle (2m 4f 56y)
Wholestone (Nigel Twiston-Davies/Daryl Jacob) recorded a third Cheltenham victory this season with another brave display in the G2 Neptune Investment Management Classic Novices' Hurdle.
Sent off the 11/4 favourite after winning the G2 Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle over three miles at The International, the Simon Munir and Isaac Souede-owned six-year-old was always towards the head of affairs and moved up to take the lead a mile from home.
Wholestone found plenty under pressure and stayed on gamely up the hill to prevail by three lengths over 5/1 chance William Henry (Nicky Henderson/Davy Russell).
Nigel Twiston-Davies commented: "Wholestone is a great galloper and the rain last night really helped. If it had stayed good ground, then maybe the others might have been too quick for him but he is a galloper and a stayer.
"He schools well and, while his hurdling doesn't look clean, he doesn't lose any lengths. He is a very good jumper - it just doesn't look pretty! If he was slow over hurdles, it would be a disaster but he is not.
"He will entered in both the Albert Bartlett and the Neptune Investment Management Novices' Hurdle but I am sure that the Albert Bartlett will be the one."
Daryl Jacob added: "Wholestone has been an improving horse all year. I was a little bit worried about coming back to two and a half miles today but fair play to Simon, Isaac, Nigel and Anthony (Bromley - racing manager). They knew the rain was coming and it was a good test for him out there today.
"He just seems to keep improving and improving. He is just a lovely horse - he doesn't do anything flash, he doesn't do anything quick but he is a typical Nigel horse. They are a very, very hardy type of horses.
"I think the Albert Bartlett at The Festival could be the race for him if we get good ground. I am not going to tell my bosses what to do - they have mastered this horse from the start of the year and all credit to them."
1.10pm £60,000 Hugo's Restaurant Barbados Trophy Handicap Chase (Grade 3), 2m 4f 166y
Foxtail Hill (Nigel Twiston-Davies/Jamie Bargary (3), 10st 3lb, 12/1) put up a fine front-running performance to land the G3 Hugo's Restaurant Barbados Trophy Handicap.
Leading from pillar to post, the eight-year-old started to go away from his field going over the third last. He tired up the run-in but kept on gamely to see off Saphir Du Rheu (Paul Nicholls/Nick Scholfield, 11st 9lb, 6/1) by a length. Tenor Nivernais (Venetia Williams/Liam Treadwell, 16/1) was a further four and a half lengths back in third.
Jamie Bargary remarked: "I think it was more relief than anything else that he kept going up the hill but thankfully he got it done.
"I had him on the rail and Nigel has put a new bit on him, which seems to keep him straight. He never put a foot wrong and the longer I went, the braver he got, which is what you want in a front-runner.
"I was hoping that I hadn't gone too fast. This ground is a bit dead and, if they are a bit keen, it doesn't help their chances in the last quarter of the race. I managed to get a breather into him after the winning line, steadied it up and they all came to me. There was no point holding on top him going down the hill, so I let him roll. Luckily, I had enough in the tank after the last to keep going.
"He half-steadied into the last and pricked his ears. I heard Saphir Du Rheu coming to me but Foxtail Hill found extra up the hill and stuck his head out.
"It's my second Grade Three and I am so thankful to be riding in these races and to be given the chance. I am having a brilliant season and it is all thanks Nigel. He keeps putting me up and I can't fault him as a boss."
Nigel Twiston-Davies added: "That was very exciting. I was muttering that Jamie had gone too fast and he hadn't! I asked him afterwards if he was going a bit quick and he said that he couldn't go any slower! The horse made his mind up for him.
"Foxtail Hill relaxed after a circuit and Jamie let the horse fill up his lungs. The rest caught up but then he still had a lot left. Jumping has never been a problem - he got brought down by a tack problem on his first run - and it was superb.
"He is certainly much better going this way round. We have had some bit adjustments and things like that and it has all worked well.
"I think the Close Brothers Novices' Handicap Chase on the first day of The Festival is his obvious race."
Rest of the card
12.35pm £25,000 Timeform Novices' Handicap Chase 2m 4f 166y
Royal Vacation (Colin Tizzard/Paddy Brennan, 11st 9lb, 12/1) put up a superb display to land the Timeform Novices' Handicap Chase.
The seven-year-old, who benefited from the fall of Might Bite when landing the G1 Kauto Star Novices' Chase at Kempton Park on Boxing Day, was always in a prominent position as Burtons Well (Venetia Williams/Charlie Deutsch (3), 11st 3lb, 15/2) made the running.
In an incident-packed race, Royal Vacation took up the running approaching the second last and kept on strongly to score by eight lengths from the staying-on Potters Legend (Lucy Wadham/Leighton Aspell, 11st 5lb, 11/1) with top-weight Ibis Du Rheu (Paul Nicholls/Harry Cobden (3), 11st 12lb, 8/1) a further length and three-quarters back in third.
Colin Tizzard commented: "There was an awful lot going on behind us, wasn't there? Paddy had him in the right position all the time and he always looked as though he was going to be involved in the finish. For whatever reason, nothing else came through. His jumping has been pretty good since day one - neat and accurate.
"This is a little bit unexpected. We were a bit lucky last time but Royal Vacation will go for one of the races at The Festival now. He needed practice around Cheltenham and that was lovely, absolutely fantastic.
"I suppose we will be governed by what the handicapper does. We were 141 going into today's race and perhaps he would have been a good thing for a handicap at The Festival but he won't be running off that rating now.
"We will see what happens but I am so chuffed for Jean Bishop (owner) and for the horse to win a race here."
Paddy Brennan said: "I was really, really impressed with Royal Vacation today. We always knew that he was a bit short of his best and sometimes we don't give horses enough credit. This horse is all guts and determination and he will win a lot of races because of that.
"Colin has given him plenty of runs at places like Lingfield, Ascot and even Kempton, when people question why he was running him, but that is what has made him.
"Three miles is his trip and, the better the ground, the better he will be. He is exciting for what is left this season. He definitely felt like an RSA Chase horse today - he is going to be rated over 150 now, so let's be realistic and he has got everything in his favour.
"He stays well - he might be outpaced at times but he will come home really well."
2.50pm £25,000 Glenfarclas Cross Country Handicap Chase, 3m 6f 37y
French raider Urgent De Gregaine (Emmanuel Clayeux/Felix de Giles, 10st, 50/1) caused a big upset in the Glenfarclas Cross County Chase when defeating 11/8 favourite Cantlow (Enda Bolger IRE/Adrian Heskin, 11st 4lb) by three lengths.This race had been rescheduled from The Open in November, when it was postponed due to the lack of rain.
The winner travelled smoothly under Felix de Giles and was held up to deliver his challenge to Cantlow after the last. He ran on well for an ultimately comfortable success. The veteran Any Currency (Martin Keighley/Richard Johnson, 14/1) was another 21 lengths back in third.
Felix de Giles said: "Urgent De Gregaine was the companion for Vezelay (who ran in the BetBright Trial Cotswold Chase). He has won a lot of races in France actually and he is one of the horses that only just does enough, so I didn't want to hit the front too soon.
"He is not a Cross-Country horse, in France he is chaser but the chases in France are a bit like these races. He has adapted well and we have profited from a light weight. The ground is testing and the distance long, so I think he has made the most of it today.
"I find that you really need a horse that stays well in Cross-Country races because they don't go very fast and it is a long trip. The ground is quite hard work today and I think if you can have a light weight, even if you lack a bit of quality, you can beat the better horses.
"I don't think he would be any better on quicker ground because he doesn't have a huge amount of speed but he stays very well. I think the handicapper will probably put him up a bit but I think he has shown us everything to warrant coming back here in March."
4.35pm £25,000 Steel Plate & Sections Handicap Hurdle, 2m 179yds
The concluding Steel Plate & Sections Handicap Hurdle went to William H Bonney (Alan King/Wayne Hutchinson, 10st 11lb, 5/1). The six-year-old travelled strongly throughout and was always doing enough on the run-in to see off the late challenge of Man Of Plenty (Sophie Leech/Patrick Cowley (7), 10st, 50/1) by a length. Another half-length back in third was Divine Spear (Nicky Henderson/Ned Curtis (5), 10st 6lb, 16/1).
Alan King said: "William H Bonney tanked through the race and I was a bit worried that he was doing a bit too much. He was a bit long at the last and does pull up in front but he found more when the other horse came to him.
"He might go for the Betfair Hurdle (at Newbury on February 11) now. That should put him spot on - he needed his first run at Kempton, we knew that he would come forward and he might just improve a bit more again. I don't think he has had a terribly hard race today and we will see but Newbury would be my first thoughts at the moment.
"He was wrong in the autumn and was lame for a long time. The team have worked hard to get him back and I ran him in the Supreme last season - I thought he was good enough to run in that but my horses weren't really firing at the time.
"I am delighted for (owners) Bob and Pauline. They have been great supporters. They have not been the luckiest but, by God, they deserve a nice horse."