Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup favourite Thistlecrack is the headline act on what promises to be a tremendous day's racing at Cheltenham tomorrow, Festival Trials Day, Saturday, January 28.
Thistlecrack (Colin Tizzard/Tom Scudamore) faces six rivals in the £100,000 G2 BetBright Trial Cotswold Chase (2.15pm) over three miles and a furlong, which is one of four Grade Two contests on a bumper nine-race card at the Home of Jump Racing.
The nine-year-old, a facile winner over hurdles at this fixture 12 months ago, made it four from four over fences with an impressive five-length victory in the G1 King George VI Chase at Kempton Park on Boxing Day.
His opponents tomorrow are headed by the last two winners of BetBright Trial Cotswold Chase in Smad Place (Alan King/Wayne Hutchinson) and Many Clouds (Oliver Sherwood/Leighton Aspell). Multiple G1 scorer Silviniaco Conti (Paul Nicholls/Noel Fehily), French raider Vezelay (Emmanuel Clayeux/Felix de Giles) and Kylemore Lough (Kerry Lee/Jamie Moore) add further spice to the contest.
Noel Hayes, Director of Sportsbook at BetBright, said: "We are delighted to be sponsoring the BetBright Trial Cotswold Chase. Thistlecrack, the current Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup favourite, will look to cement his elite status in the run-up to The Festival and punters will be watching keenly, hoping that he can continue his perfect march towards chasing history.
"Thistlecrack is currently priced at 8/11 for the Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup and if we see the performance we hope to see from the favourite this Saturday you can expect to see that price shorten even further as we approach The Festival."
Sun Bets Stayers' Hurdle favourite Unowhatimeanharry (Harry Fry/Barry Geraghty), who is on seven-race winning streak, clashes with Ballyoptic (Richard Johnson) for the third time this season in the £60,000 G2 galliardhomes.com Cleeve Hurdle (4.00pm, 3m).
There was six lengths between them in the G2 Long Distance Hurdle at Newbury in November and the pair were upsides when Ballyoptic came down at the last in Ascot's G1 Long Walk Hurdle on December 17.
Ballyoptic's trainer Nigel Twiston-Davies, who trains not far from Cheltenham, said today: "Ballyoptic is very well at the moment.
"He is getting 4lb from some of field, including Unowhatimeanharry, and any rain they get will be a help as well.
"He was bang upsides at Ascot when coming down at the last. You could not have been sure what would have happened had he stayed up and he is better off at the weights now.
"We were positive on him at Ascot and I would imagine we will do the same again tomorrow."
The 15-strong field for the galliardhomes.com Cleeve Hurdle also features Un Temps Pour Tout (David Pipe/Tom Scudamore), prolific French import Kotkikova (Nicky Henderson/Barry Geraghty) and Ptit Zig (Paul Nicholls/Sam Twiston-Davies), who captured the French Champion Hurdle in June.
Twiston-Davies also runs Wholestone (Daryl Jacob) in the £30,000 G2 Neptune Investment Management Classic Novices' Hurdle (3.25pm, 2m 4f 56y, 10 runners).
The six-year-old has been successful on three of his four starts over hurdles this season, including twice at Cheltenham, and drops back in trip after capturing the three-mile G2 Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle at The International in December.
The trainer added: "Wholestone is in good form. He is improving with experience and hopefully he can keep it going.
"There are not that many races open to him. He was also entered at Doncaster over three miles but the ground there is a bit quicker so we decided to come here.
"We know he likes Cheltenham and the hill."
Wholestone's nine opponents include William Henry (Nicky Henderson/Davy Russell), who steps up in trip after a decisive success over two miles at Newbury, and Coo Star Sivola (Nick Williams/Lizzie Kelly), who won the Listed Neptune Investment Management CNovices' Hurdle on New Year's Day at Cheltenham, plus unbeaten point-to-point recruits Topofthegame (Paul Nicholls/Sam Twiston-Davies) and Kimberlite Candy (Tom Lacey/Barry Geraghty).
There is top-level action courtesy of the £70,000 Grade One Spectra - Cyber Security Solutions Clarence House Chase (1.45pm, seven runners). The two-mile contest has been rescheduled following the abandonment of Ascot on Saturday, January 21.
Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase runner-up Un De Sceaux (Willie Mullins IRE/Ruby Walsh) bids for his second G1 victory of the campaign after a battling display in the Tingle Creek Chase at Sandown Park in December. Fellow Irish raider Special Tiara (Henry de Bromhead IRE/Noel Fehily), successful at Kempton Park over Christmas, Top Gamble (Kerry Lee/Davy Russell) and the returning Uxizandre (Alan King/Barry Geraghty), who has not raced since winning the 2015 Ryanair Chase at The Festival, also run.
The G2 action is completed by the opening £30,000 JCB Triumph Hurdle Trial at 12.00pm (six runners). Owner JP McManus is represented by dual course scorer Defi Du Seuil (Philip Hobbs/Richard Johnson), who bolted up in the Future Champions Juvenile Finale Hurdle at Chepstow over Christmas, and impressive Kempton victor Charli Parcs (Nicky Henderson/Barry Geraghty).
Cantlow (Enda Bolger IRE/Adrian Heskin) bids for a second consecutive victory over Cheltenham's Cross Country Course in the £25,000 Glenfarclas Cross Country Handicap Chase (2.50pm, 3m 6f, 10 runners), which has been re-scheduled from The Open in November. He is one of six Irish-trained runners while there is French participant in Urgent de Gregaine (Emmanuel Clayeux FR/Felix de Giles).
The action is completed by the £60,000 G3 Hugo's Restaurant Barbados Trophy Handicap Chase (1.10pm, 2m 4f 166y, 13 runners), £25,000 Timeform Novices' Handicap Chase (12.35pm, 2m 4f 166y, 14 runners) and the concluding Steel Plate And Sections Handicap Hurdle (4.35pm, 2m 179y, 17 runners).
Latest going news
The latest going at Cheltenham is:
Chase and Hurdle Courses: Good to Soft
Cross Country Course: Good, Good to Soft in places
Milder weather is predicted through today with overnight rain (three to five millimetres) forecast.
Tomorrow (Saturday) is forecast to be a mostly dry day.
The Chase and Hurdle Courses, plus vulnerable parts of the Cross Country Course, are protected by frost covers.
All chase bends (except on the Cross Country Course) are dolled out by 16 yards, adding 96 yards to each circuit, while hurdle bends are dolled out by 14 yards, adding 84 yards to each circuit.
Revised distances as follows:
Race 1 - noon: 2m 1f 43yds
Race 2 - 12.35pm: 2m 5f 42yds
Race 3 - 1.10pm: 2m 5f 42yds
Race 4 - 1.45pm: 2m 158yds
Race 5 - 2.15pm: 3m 2f 28yds
Race 6 - 2.50pm: 3m 6f 37yds
Race 7 - 3.25pm: 2m 4f 140yds
Race 8 - 4.00pm: 3m 141yds
Race 9 - 4.35pm: 2m 1f 43yds