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No rush to decide Cheltenham target for Roksana

Dan Skelton believes Roksana is at her best after the nine-year-old ran out an impressive winner of the Grade Two Mares’ Hurdle at Ascot.

However, the Alcester trainer is no hurry to decide which race will be her target at the Cheltenham Festival.

Roksana could stick to her sex and go for the Close Brothers Mares’ Hurdle, which she won in 2019 and was fourth in last year, or take on the geldings in the Paddy Power Stayers’ Hurdle.

She easily brushed aside Magic Of Light on Saturday to run a second successive big race at the Berkshire track, having finished third to Paisley Park in the Long Walk Hurdle last month.

“I was really happy with her. She’s coming of age and is a strong filly and is probably at her best,” said Skelton.

“I’m delighted with how everything has gone with her.

“She’s got two entries at Cheltenham, in the Stayers’ and the Mares’, and we’ll have a bit of a think closer to the time.

“We’ll sit quiet for now. Her next run will be at Cheltenham – 100 per cent.”

Roksana makes light work of Ascot rivals

Roksana returned to the scene of her fine effort in the Long Walk Hurdle to readily outclass her three foes in the Matchbook Betting Podcast Mares’ Hurdle at Ascot.

Ridden with cool confidence from off the pace set by Magic Of Light and Coded Message, the 8-15 favourite turned into the home straight with jockey Harry Skelton holding a double handful.

Waiting until approaching the final flight, Skelton let out an inch of rein and Roksana sprinted clear of Magic Of Light, with Eglantine Du Seuil back in third just ahead of Coded Message.

Trainer Dan Skelton will look at two options at the Cheltenham Festival, including the World Hurdle for his impressive winner, who was third to Paisley Park and Thyme Hill in the Long Walk. But for now the mare will enjoy a well-earned easy few days.

Skelton’s assistant Tom Messenger said: “It was always the plan to give her three races – at Wetherby, the Long Walk and this race – before letting her down ahead of a possible trip to Cheltenham. It’s now up in the air whether she runs in the mares’ race there, the Stayers’ Hurdle or waits for Aintree.

“You would like to think she wouldn’t be far away if we headed for the Stayers’, and it looks up for grabs in an open year. You have to be in it to win it, and she’s a tough individual that can be kept in hard training.”

Roksana out to uphold Long Walk form back at Ascot

Dan Skelton is hoping Roksana can repeat her excellent Long Walk performance on her return to Ascot for the Matchbook Betting Podcast Mares’ Hurdle.

The nine-year-old was beaten only two lengths when third to Paisley Park in the Grade One over an extended three miles in December and runs against own her sex again on Saturday.

However, it will be no walkover – because the opposition includes Magic Of Light, winner of this race for the last two years.

“I’m delighted with her – it was a great run in the Long Walk over the course and distance,” said Skelton.

“Obviously Magic Of Light is the one to beat, but I’m also respectful of the others in there.

“I think it’s a strong mares’ race, but I’m very happy with ours.”

Magic Of Light, trained in Ireland by Jessica Harrington and runner-up to Tiger Roll in the 2019 Grand National, has already made a successful visit to Britain this season to win a Listed mares’ chase at Newbury for the third year running.

“She is going for a hat-trick in the race and is in great form,” said Kate Harrington, assistant to her mother.

“She is entered in the Gold Cup and the Mares’ Chase at the Cheltenham Festival, and mum is thinking of running her in the Gold Cup.”

Magic Of Light is bidding to win Ascot's Grade Two hurdle for a third time
Magic Of Light is bidding to win Ascot’s Grade Two hurdle for a third time (Bradley Collyer/PA)

Paul Nicholls believes Eglantine Du Seuil can give a good account of herself, with the help of a 6lb concession from the big two.

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“She ran a cracker on her latest start for us six weeks ago in a competitive mares’ handicap hurdle at Cheltenham, where she came from off the pace to be second to The White Mouse,” Nicholls told Betfair.

“This is a new trip for her – and although I can’t be sure she stays three miles, she was keeping on well at the finish at Cheltenham.

“I’m hopeful Eglantine Du Seuil can run tidily, getting 6lb from two smart mares Magic Of Light and Roksana.”

Jeremy Scott is on a discovery mission with Dashel Drasher, who lines up for the bet365 Handicap Chase.

The Somerset trainer wants to find out if his lightly-raced eight-year-old can mix it with seasoned campaigners off his current mark in a competitive race such as this.

What Dashel Drasher has in his favour is a course-and-distance success on his latest start, albeit a three-horse affair.

“He’s come out of his last race really well. It’s very much to find out whether he’s at that level,” said Scott.

“We’ve only ever raced in those novice chases and a graduation chase, so how solid his handicap mark is we don’t know.

“It’s very much in a decent-sized field. I hope he runs well. I was pleased with the way he raced last time, but this will be a different proposition.”

Rose Dobbin has had this race in mind for Jonniesofa for some time – but did not expect it to be as competitive as it has turned out.

However, she reports the 11-year-old to be in good shape following his victory at Carlisle last month.

“He’s doing really well. He’s in great order. I’m very happy with him,” said the Northumberland trainer.

“We picked out this race a while ago, thinking conditions would suit him. Unfortunately, it seems to be quite a competitive renewal, but we’ll go and take our chance and see how he gets on.”

Skelton reports Bennys King to be in prime condition as he attempts to go one better than 12 months ago.

“He won there last time, (and) two-miles-five is a great trip for him,” said the Alcester trainer.

“He looks fantastic – this is the perfect race for him.

“He’s gone up in the handicap, which is making life harder, but I couldn’t be any happier with him.”

Nicholls was delighted to see Capeland return to winning ways at Wincanton, although it means he must race off a career-high mark.

Capeland is up to a career-high mark on Saturday
Capeland is up to a career-high mark on Saturday (PA)

“I was thrilled to see him bounce back to form with a stylish success a fortnight ago off a mark of 149 at Wincanton, back up in trip to two and a half miles,” he said.

“Capeland is now up to a career-high mark of 153 at a track which we know he likes, but he is another who wouldn’t want any more rain at Ascot.”

Tom Lacey is looking forward to having Kateson back on the track in the Matchbook Better Way To Bet Holloway’s Handicap Hurdle, for the first time in seven weeks.

The Herefordshire trainer believes the eight-year-old runs well when fresh, so has given him a break since he was successful at Aintree.

“He seems in good order. I think the trip on that ground will be right up his street, fingers crossed,” said Lacey.

Tom Lacey has given Kateson a break since his Aintree victory
Tom Lacey has given Kateson a break since his Aintree victory (PA)

“He’s a horse that runs best fresh. We’ve just been waiting to find the races for him.

Nicholls is confident of a strong performance from Danny Kirwan.

The Ditcheat handler said: “He has had one or two issues that have interrupted his career but is now in as good a place as we’ve had him for a long time, and it was great to see him show what he can do with a fluent victory over this trip at Ascot two months ago.

“Next time at Cheltenham he didn’t stay three miles. Danny has been working with Politologue and will be much happier back at this trip on testing ground that he relishes. I am expecting a big run from him in a competitive race.”

Roksana returns to winning form with stylish Wetherby success

Roksana quickened up impressively to win the bet365 Hurdle at Wetherby in fine fashion.

Dan and Harry Skelton have an impressive strike-rate at the West Yorkshire track and their well-backed 13-8 favourite further augmented their tally with a taking success.

Having been dropped out towards the rear, Roksana loomed up looking a huge threat at the third last and the only question was how much she had left in the locker.

Stayers’ Hurdle winner Lisnagar Oscar and Next Destination, having his first start for Paul Nicholls, both looked to be travelling well, but neither had an answer to the mare.

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Roksana put the race to bed in a matter of strides, scooting eight and a half lengths clear of Next Destination, with Kildisart in third and Lisnagar Oscar fourth.

Skelton said: “She’s magic. We were always going down the Mares’ Hurdle route last year as she’d obviously won it the year before. She ran well and we were looking forward to Aintree, but obviously Covid put a stop to that.

“We always knew three miles was going to come one day. We’re probably six months behind it happening for obvious reasons.

“I’m delighted with her today. She was getting the allowances and we’re under no illusions about how much the likes of Lisnagar Oscar and others are going to improve as the season progresses, but she did everything right.

“We’ll let the others scrap it out in the Long Distance Hurdle at Newbury and we’ll perhaps aim for the Long Walk at Ascot. We might enter her in Ireland (Leopardstown) as well, just in case the restrictions lift for the Christmas meeting.

“We’ll see what the spring brings. The owners aren’t set on Cheltenham, so there’s every possibility she could miss Cheltenham and go straight to Aintree.

“It’s potentially her last season, but we’re under no illusions about how good a racemare she is and if we think there’s another good year in her, then she could come back.”

Roksana returns to the winner's enclosure
Roksana returns to the winner’s enclosure (Ashley Iveson/PA)

Nicholls said of Next Destination: “I can’t tell you how thrilled I am with that – it was an awesome run.

“He’s been off an awful long time. I couldn’t take him away anywhere to gallop because the ground has been too firm, so that’s probably the first time he’s worked on grass since the last time he ran.

“He travelled beautifully and jumped beautifully – he’ll be a right chaser.

“We’ve schooled him over fences and I think that (novice chasing) will be the plan now.”