Belle has a ball in Huntingdon victory

Elle Est Belle finished with a flourish to beat the boys in a dramatic renewal of the Urban Logistics Reit Sidney Banks Memorial Novices’ Hurdle at Huntingdon.

French Holly (1998), Time For Rupert (2009) and the brilliant Shishkin (2020) are among the previous winners of the Listed contest, and a strong field went to post for this year’s renewal.

The narrow favourite was Richard Spencer’s Wonderwall (7-4) following an impressive victory at Doncaster last month, with the Dan Skelton-trained Elle Est Belle next best at 15-8.

Third behind Sir Gerhard and Kilcruit in the Champion Bumper at Cheltenham last season, Elle Est Belle had since won at Listed level over hurdles before finishing four behind star novice Jonbon at Ascot.

Course and distance winner Gentleman At Arms dictated for much of the way and looked the most likely winner at the final flight, where Wonderwall crashed out and brought down the unbeaten Harbour Lake.

But champion jockey Harry Skelton conjured a late rattle out of Elle Est Belle, who got up to beat the long-time leader by a neck.

“I’m really happy with her. To be fair to Stu’s (Edmunds) horse (Gentleman At Arms), he has made the running and didn’t deserve to get beat. He has gone out on his shield there so fair play,” said the winning trainer.

All smiles for winning connections
All smiles for winning connections (PA)

“I think it was a very competitive race where they didn’t go that quick and it turned into a sprint and they were all there. I think the form of the race will be good. I’m not necessarily saying it is all fancy Grade One form. They came in here a bunch of 135 horses and they have certainly cemented that and a bit more really.”

On future targets, Skelton appears to be leaning more towards Aintree than Cheltenham.

He said: “I’ve got to talk to the owners and they will do what we think is best, but my first instinct is to wait for Aintree.”

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