Cheltenham hosted Festival Trials Day on Saturday, with an excellent seven-race programme offering five Graded contests. The going was Soft.
The attendanceon course was 20 245.
Trainer Nicky Henderson saddled his second Paddy Power Gr2 Cotswold Chase winner when Santini justified 13/8 favouritism in the 2020 renewal. It was Henderson’s second success in the feature contest on Festival Trials Day following Raffi Nelson in 1980.
The 2020 running turned into a match between the winner and Bristol de Mai, third in the 2019 Magners Cheltenham Gold Cup. Bristol de Mai made the running before a mistake three fences from home handed the advantage to Santini.
Despite a rallying effort from Bristol de Mai, Santini was always doing enough and stayed on strongly to score by three and a half lengths. None of the five other starters got competitive and there was 29 lengths back to Top Ville Ben in third.
Nicky Henderson said: “I think this horse is worth the wait because that’s what it is all about – he is big, powerful and learning all the time. That was a lot better than Sandown, when we thought it would be an easy race and he wasn’t that impressive. We did do his wind but he thrives on work, work, work and we have thrown it at him. I can’t believe that there isn’t a fair amount of improvement to come – there has to be improvement, to be fair.
“Bristol de Mai is a rock-solid benchmark – I looked as though we had got there and then he came back and had another crack. Santini fought back well and there is plenty of improvement and plenty of time. We won’t be racing between now and the Gold Cup but it’s an open race – there are a lot of protagonists and we are one of them.
“He didn’t have to win today, but it is very satisfying to see him come back. He has been like that at home – he has been sharp and well. He takes a huge amount of work but he loves it – the more he does, the better he is. He will get a few quiet days between now and March, but he won’t get a lot of them.
“The better the ground, the better it would be for Santini. We know that Bristol de Mai would go through a paddy field whereas Santini wouldn’t. We have work to do between now and March but we are in the ball game and can look forward.”
Nico de Boinville commented: “That was fairly testing, but that’s how we like it. I have to give full credit to the guv’nor and the whole team at home. They have done a fantastic job with this horse, who has not been the easiest to train – they have got him A1 for the day.
“If I sit back on Santini and let him to his own thing, he doesn’t really quite come alive, so I wanted to get him upsides and wake him up a bit. It was gruelling and the form is rock solid as well. We are back on track, which is nice.”
Santini is a 7/1 chance (from 9/1) for the Magners Cheltenham Gold Cup with Paddy Power. The last horse to win the Paddy Power Cotswold Chase and go on to victory in the Magners Cheltenham Gold Cup in the same season was Looks Like Trouble in 2000.