Dan Skelton is convinced he has made the right decision in running Roksana in the Close Brothers’ Mares’ Hurdle at Cheltenham.
Skelton could have switched his talented nine-year-old to Thursday’s Paddy Power Stayers’ Hurdle, but he resisted the temptation even after the news that leading fancy Thyme Hill will not run.
Roksana bids to win the Mares’ Hurdle for a second time after scoring in 2019, when she benefited from the final-flight fall of Benie Des Dieux.
Since then she has proved she can be competitive against geldings at the highest level, only being beaten two lengths when third to Paisley Park and Thyme Hill in the Long Walk Hurdle at Ascot in December.
“We were always going for the Mares’ Hurdle really. I just confirmed her for the Stayers’ to satisfy myself that we were making the right decision and to give us a little bit longer to make sure that we were right after Thyme Hill came out,” said the Alcester handler.
“We just wanted to make sure we were happy, and we are. She’s in great form at home and brings some very strong form into the race.
“She’s obviously coming back in trip as she’s done her racing at three miles this year. She stays very strongly.
“I don’t think there’s any need to talk about whether she has better form than Concertista or not. We’ll find out on Tuesday.
Concertista, trained by Willie Mullins, took the Grade Two mares’ novice hurdle at last year’s Festival and has won both her starts this season. Mullins is also represented by Great White Shark and My Sister Sarah.
Minella Melody has yet to get the better of Concertista, but connections of the Henry de Bromhead-trained seven-year-old expect her to run well.
“I can’t get over her price, to be honest. It’s hard to see her beating Concertista, who has beaten her twice, but I think she’s the forgotten mare of the race,” said Peter Molony, racing manager to owner Kenny Alexander.
“Black Tears is half her odds. The last day we ran against her we were giving her 6lb and beat her six lengths, so I’m not sure she’s a much shorter price than Minella.
“Hopefully she can do the talking on the day and run a good race.”
Nicky Henderson reverts to hurdles with Dame De Compagnie, after a brief spell chasing.
“She won the two-runner race at Ayr and we were a bit short of opportunities then and I had to throw her into a Grade One, which was a bit of a baptism of fire really and it was just a bit too much of her,” said the Seven Barrows handler.
“She’s in very good form and the fall (in the Scilly Isles Novices’ Chase) did her no harm. I don’t see why she shouldn’t come back over hurdles and two and a half is her trip, as she showed in the Coral Cup last year.
“She’s not ready for the Mares’ Chase as yet, especially after the incident at Sandown. We can always go back over fences next year.”
Henderson said of his other runner, Floressa: “She has been running good races at two miles in graded company and we’ve always felt two and a half would suit her.”
Aye Right bids to land a deserve success in the Ultima Handicap Chase after going close in three decent prizes this term.
Harriet Graham’s eight-year-old has finished second in the Ladbrokes Trophy and Sky Bet Chase, and third in the Charlie Hill Chase.
With his regular rider Callum Bewley suspended, Richard Johnson takes the mount.
“He’s a lovely ride to pick up, but obviously it’s a great shame for Callum he’s suspended and can’t ride him,” said Johnson.
“His run in the Ladbrokes Trophy behind Cloth Cap, the way he won at Kelso the other day that form looks very solid and his run at Doncaster a few weeks ago was good.
“Obviously he’s higher in the weights now, but that is because his form is so good and he’s one of the class horses in the Ultima. He goes there with a really strong chance in a very competitive race.
David Bass is looking forward to continuing his association with the Kim Bailey-trained Happygolucky after their victory in a novice chase at Cheltenham in December.
“I think he’s got a great profile for the race. I’ve always really liked him and he’s a true professional,” said Bass.
“He’s a good traveller, he jumps well and while it’s his first handicap chase, I’m not concerned about that as he has a great temperament.
“He ran a very good race in the Martin Pipe last year and was fourth, but he’s always been crying out for three miles. We stepped him up last time and he won at Cheltenham. He’s so straightforward and handles any type of ground.”
Skelton believes Alnadam will be suited by going up in trip after winning over an extended two and a half miles at Sandown.
“He’s a progressive novice and I think the step up to three miles is a real positive,” said the Alcester trainer.
“I’m looking forward to getting him out there, to be honest with you. It’s a massive step up for him, but he deserves to have a pop.”
Skelton expects Cabot Cliffs to run a decent race in the Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle, having won his last two races at Warwick in good style.
“He’s a very tough an consistent horse,” he said.
“This is a totally different type of race to what he’s been running in, but some juveniles you suspect might not give their running – it’s a hard season for them.
“One thing with Cabot Cliffs is, he’s a very tough horse.”
Paul Nicholls sprang a minor surprise at the weekend when opting to run Next Destination in the San Vestey National Hunt Challenge Cup Novices’ Chase rather than the Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase on Wednesday.
He told Betfair: “I spent a long time on the phone on Saturday night with his owner Malcolm Denmark weighing up all the options before we decided to go for the National Hunt Chase rather than the Brown Advisory a day later.
“Three miles on nearly good ground would not be ideal for Next Destination who is a stout stayer, so with Royale Pagaille heading for the Gold Cup it made sense to go for the race that suited us best on what is likely to be the slowest ground of the week.”
The same owner/trainer combination also run Soldier Of Love.
“Malcolm has a useful second contender in Soldier of Love who made giant strides in the summer and has enjoyed a nice little holiday while waiting for ground conditions to come in his favour,” Nicholls added.