The £60,000 Barchester Healthcare Silver Trophy Chase (2.40pm), highlight of day one of The April Meeting at Cheltenham tomorrow, Wednesday, April 18th, has attracted a record 16 runners.
First run as a limited handicap in 2003, the Barchester Healthcare Silver Trophy Chase takes place over two miles and five furlongs and the previous highest number of runners was 14 in 2008.
Paul Nicholls is the leading current trainer in the Barchester Healthcare Silver Trophy Chase’s history with four victories (Fadalko 2002, Poliantas 2003, Nycteos, 2007 and Poqulin 2011).
The Somerset-based handler saddles top-weight Frodon (Bryony Frost (3), 11st 10lb) in this year’s event and the six-year-old routed a smart field when landing the Crest Nicholson Handicap Chase at Cheltenham on Festival Trials Day, January 27h, over the course and distance with Frost in the saddle.
A fine third behind Waiting Patiently in the Ascot Chase in February, Frodon finished fifth of six in the Ryanair Chase at The Cheltenham Festival last month.
Harry Fry, the Dorset trainer, has landed the last two renewals of the Barchester Healthcare Silver Trophy Chase courtesy of Voix D’Eau (2016) and Henryville (2017) and is doubly represented in this year’s contest.
Art Of Payroll (Bryan Cooper, 10st 6lb), formerly trained in Ireland by Sandra Hughes, justified favouritism when making a winning debut for Fry at Southwell in August, but disappointed when pulled up back at the same course in September. He has subsequently undergone a wind operation and is joined by the 2016 winner Voix D’Eau (Mr Michael Legg (5), 10st 5lb), who was last seen when fifth in a handicap chase at Ascot in November.
Herefordshire-based trainer Matt Sheppard saddles Rock On Rocky (10st 4lb, including a 5lb penalty), ridden by his 3lb-claiming son Stan, in tomorrow’s contest. The 10-year-old son of Overbury is enjoying an excellent season thus far, recording victories at Newbury in March and Ludlow in last week, both over two miles, on his latest two starts.
Sheppard who trains at Home Farm Cottage in Eastnor near Ledbury, is keen on moving up in trip for this ultra-competitive handicap chase.
He said today: “Rock On Rocky is in good form and it’s all systems go for Cheltenham tomorrow.
“We’re very happy with him at home and he is in the best form of his life.
“Tomorrow’s event looks very competitive on paper, and whilst this is another big step-up in class off his current mark, there aren’t that many races for him, so we’re keen to see how he gets on at Cheltenham.
“We’ll give him a break after this race anyway and he owes us nothing after the season he’s had, but this is a big test.
“His form this season has been excellent and it has helped that we’ve changed the tactics on him. We used to make the running, but we’ve started to hold him up in his races and not the force the pace – that seems to have paid dividends.
“He has jumped well in his last two starts and considering, he has been running so much, it’s a testament to the horse that his form has not dipped.
“He has been racing predominantly over two miles, but I’m hoping the step up in trip won’t pose too much of a problem. We won’t ride him handily so we will hold him up and ride him to stay.
“In his earlier days, Rock On Rocky used to enjoy heavy ground, but I think he has got a bit cheesed off with testing conditions as he has got older, so he won’t mind a bit of better ground.
“He’s had a marvellous season. He had a wind operation a couple of months ago and it improved his form.
“He was a home-bred and he’s now won us over £86,000 in prize money. He is a joy to train and if things fall into place, hopefully he has a chance – we’re looking forward to the race.”
Neil Mulholland, who trains near Bath, runs two progressive horses in Shantou Village (Robert Dunne, 10st 12b) and Kalondra (10st 9lb, Noel Fehily).
Shantou Village has won four of his six races over fences but was pulled up on his latest start in the Monet’s Garden Old Roan Chase at Aintree in October, whilst Kalondra was fourth to subsequent Betway Mildmay Novices’ Chase victor Terrefort in the G1 Scilly Isles Novices’ Chase at Sandown on February 3rd.
Jackdaws Castle handler Jonjo O’Neill saddles Go Conquer (Aidan Coleman, 11st), who plundered competitive handicap chases at Fontwell and Ascot earlier this season, whilst recent Matchbook Silver Bowl Handicap Chase winner Cepage (Charlie Deutsch, 10st 7lb) represents Venetia Williams.
Ramses De Teillee (David Pipe/Tom Scudamore, 10st 6lb), seventh to Coo Star Sivola in the Ultima Handicap Chase at The Festival, Knockgraffon (Olly Murphy/Brian Hughes, 10st 7lb), successful at Musselburgh on New Year’s Day, and Days Of Heaven (Nicky Henderson/Nico de Boinville, 10st 12lb), off the track since being pulled up in the BetVictor Gold Cup at Cheltenham’s November Meeting, contribute the competitiveness of the race.
Traffic Fluide (Gary Moore/Joshua Moore, 10st 4lb) and Quite By Chance (Colin Tizzard/Harry Cobden, 10st 5lb), both well beaten behind The Storyteller in the Brown Advisory & Merriebelle Stable Plate Handicap Chase at The Festival, also take their chances.
Oliver Sherwood’s Enjoy Responsibly (Harrison Beswick (7), 10st 4lb), Casino Markets (Emma Lavelle/Nick Schofield, 10st 4lb) and Jameson (Nigel Twiston-Davies/Sam Twiston-Davies, 10st 4lb), complete the 16 runners.
Double Treasure (Jamie Snowden/Aidan Coleman, 11st 12lb) bids to defy top-weight in the £25,000 Weatherite Handicap Chase (5.00pm, 14 runners) over three and a quarter miles, his first attempt at the distance.
The opposition include Smooth Stepper (Sue Smith/Danny Cook, 11st 8lb), who captured a valuable handicap chase over this trip at Kelso earlier this month, and 2017 Ultima Handicap Chase second Singlefarmpayment (Tom George/Richard Johnson, 11st 4lb).
Local trainer Fergal O’Brien has two contenders in popular 13-year-old Alvarado (Adam Wedge, 10st 6lb) and improver Lovely Job (Noel Fehily, 11st), who has not finished out of the first two in seven of his eight starts over fences.
The most valuable hurdle race on the opening day card of The April Meeting is the £25,000 Kingston Stud Supporting Greatwood Handicap Hurdle (3.15pm, 23 runners) over two and a half miles, with the weights headed by Activial (Neil Mulholland/Noel Fehily, 11st 12lb), who has not run for 14 months.
Philip Hobbs saddles Verni (Richard Johnson, 11st 1lb) as he tries to win the race for the fourth time since 2009, while Colin’s Brother (Nigel Twiston-Davies/Jamie Bargary, 10st 8lb) returns to hurdles after a string a good performances over fences.
High-class chaser Josses Hill (Nicky Henderson/Nico de Boinville, 11st 10lb) is another switching codes, this time in the £20,000 Safran Landing Systems Handicap Hurdle (4.25pm, 24 runners) over three miles.
Josses Hill is winless in five starts over fences so far this season, with his most recent success coming in the Peterborough Chase at Huntingdon in December, 2016.
The maximum field also features progressive hurdlers King Of Realms (Ian Williams/Tom O’Brien, 10st 12lb) and Buckle Street (Martin Keighley/Harry Stock (5), 10st 12lb), who were both successful at Doncaster last time out.
Poetic Rhythm (Fergal O’Brien/Paddy Brennan) faces 13 opponents in the opening contest, the £20,000 Citipost Novices’ Hurdle (2.05pm, 14 runners) over two and a half miles. The seven-year-old has to concede upwards of 4lb to his rivals following his victory in the Challow Novices’ Hurdle at Newbury in December.
Champion Jump trainer Nicky Henderson has captured three of the last six renewals, including with star chaser Might Bite in 2015, and is represented by Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle fifth Diese Des Bieffes (Noel Fehily).
The other two races on the Cheltenham card are the £17,500 Nicholson Holman Chase (3.50pm, 11 runners), a limited novices’ handicap over three and a quarter miles, and the concluding £15,000 Cheltenham Pony Racing Authority Graduates’ Handicap Hurdle (5.30pm, 16 runners, 2m 1f), which is restricted to conditional and amateur jockeys that have ridden in PRA Pony Races.