Matt Brocklebank looks ahead to the mares' races at the 2019 Cheltenham Festival with 11/1 and 20/1 selections including one for Willie Mullins.
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Rok steady for Skeltons
You’ve got to go back to the inaugural running of the OLBG Mares’ Hurdle in 2008 for the last British-trained winner in Whiteoak but ROKSANA (11/1, William Hill, Marathon Bet) looks potentially underestimated for the home team this season.
Trainer Dan Skelton has seemingly held her in really high regard since the start of her career and she made significant waves as a novice last season, improving on her 40/1 debut third at Chepstow to win three on the bounce.
That winning run culminated in an impressive performance in the Grade Two novices’ handicap hurdle finale at Newbury last March and, having been raised to a perch of 139, she was subsequently aimed towards Grade One glory at Aintree’s Grand National meeting.
Only Santini denied her top-class honours in Liverpool and the form stands up to close scrutiny with the likes of Ok Corral back in fifth and Chef Des Obeaux and Count Meribel among the also-rans.
There is also a perfectly valid case for her effort at Aintree being marked up quite significantly as she was the only prominent finisher to have been held up in a steadily-run race.
That came over three miles and she also holds a Festival entry in the Stayers’ Hurdle but the decision to bring her back over two miles in Sandown’s Contenders Hurdle gives a strong indication that the Mares’ Hurdle over two and a half remains the target (Skelton was already referring to the race following Aintree last spring).
She was far from disgraced behind Buveur D’Air and subsequent National Spirit Hurdle winner Vision Des Flos in the circumstances, over a trip short of her best, on her first outing for the best part of 10 months, and there was certainly no outward sign of the minor setback which kept her off the track prior to Christmas.
After six lifetime starts over obstacles, there’s clearly scope for further improvement from the seven-year-old Roksana and she looks the pick of the Brits behind a bunch of quality Irish mares at the top of the antepost lists.
Laurina would likely mop up here if rerouted from the Champion Hurdle but Benie Des Dieux is also unbeaten since joining Willie Mullins and she won this event by half a length 12 months ago.
Her subsequent Grade One win over Augusta Kate at Punchestown last April was the last time we saw her in public and while reports from the camp are relatively positive, she’s just way too short to be backing at 5/4 after such a layoff, especially given the hold-ups Mullins seems to have had with various other contenders.
Of her stablemates, Stormy Ireland was six lengths behind Laurina at Punchestown in her final prep run and that level of form could look even stronger depending on what’s happened a little earlier on the Tuesday afternoon. She appeals more than Limini, who hasn’t won over hurdles since February 2017 and may just be more at home on deep ground these days.
Gordon Elliott’s Missy Tata has had just the one run since Christmas 2016 but it was an impressive chase victory at Fairyhouse and Benie Des Dieux came here following a run over fences last February.
Missy Tata has Festival form in the book having been fourth in the 2016 Fred Winter won by Diego Du Charmil and could certainly shorten in the coming week, but for now – with the target all but secured – Roksana appeals as the most solid each-way play against the skinny-priced favourite.
Antepost Angle - 2018/19 National Hunt season record
- OLBG Mares Hurdle (28/02/19) - 1pt e.w. Roksana at 11/1 (William Hill, Marathon Bet)
- Tattersalls Mares' Novices' Hurdle (28/02/19) - 1pt win Salsaretta at 20/1 (NRNB Betfair, Paddy Power)
- JCB Triumph Hurdle (18/02/19) - 1pt win Carlo Biraghi at 16/1 (General)
- National Hunt Chase (18/02/19) - 1pt win Mister Malarky at 16/1 (General)
- Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle (04/02/19) – 1pt win Itchy Feet at 33/1 (General)
- Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle (04/02/19) – 1pt win City Island at 20/1 (General)
- Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle (04/02/19) – 1pt win Kateson at 33/1 (bet365)
- Arkle Chase (28/01/19) - 2pts win Cilaos Emery at 8/1 (General)
- JLT Novices' Chase (28/01/18) - 1pt win Hardline at 16/1 (General)
- Stayers' Hurdle (12/01/19) - 1pt win Darasso at 33/1 (William Hill, Unibet)
- Champion Hurdle (12/01/19) - 1pt e.w. Vision Des Flos at 100/1 (William Hill, Betfair)
- RSA Chase (07/01/19) - 1pt win Vinndication at 16/1 (General)
- Cheltenham Gold Cup (14/01/19) - 1pt win Sizing John at 20/1 (General)
- Ryanair Chase (14/01/19) - 1pt win Sizing John at 12/1 (NRNB, General), 1pt win Mister Whitaker at 33/1 (NRNB, General)
- King George VI Chase (27/11/18) - 1pt win Politologue at 9/1
- Ladbrokes Trophy (13/11/18) - 1pt win Sizing Tennessee at 33/1 (WON)
- BetVictor Gold Cup (04/11/18) - 2pts win Baron Alco at 12/1 (WON)
- Unibet Greatwood Hurdle (04/11/18) - 1pt win Hunters Call at 16/1 & 1pt win Off You Go at 12/1 (BOTH NOT DECLARED)
Stick with Salsaretta
SALSARETTA was a bit of a buzz horse throughout last season but she never made it to the track, until finally appearing in the Tattersalls Mares' Novices' Hurdle at Cheltenham.
She was well held before falling and was then beaten out of sight by Laurina on her second outing for Willie Mullins in a Grade One at Fairyhouse last April.
However, a drop to maiden company gave her a much-needed confidence boost at Sligo and the fact that arrived on May 6 crucially means she stayed a novice for the remainder of the current jumps season.
She's got Festival options this time around but the 20/1 (NRNB) with Paddy Power looks potentially out of line if Mullins decides to have another crack at the same race, rather than aim for the Martin Pipe off 141.
She's a similar price for the handicap but typically Mullins keeps his mares to their own sex if at all possible and the six-year-old certainly looks a stronger model this season having beaten Felix Desjy by three and a half lengths at Limerick on Boxing Day.
The second went on to win the Grade Two Sky Bet Moscow Flyer Novice Hurdle and while Salsaretta's only outing since saw her unseat Patrick Mullins early on in the Grade One over two miles, six furlongs at the Dublin Racing Festival, she's clearly better this year than last.
Mullins is never against dropping a horse back in distance and there's a good chance a strongly-run, two miles and one furlong around Cheltenham will play to her strengths anyway now she's starting to fill her frame.
One thing clearly in her favour is the weights structure as she gets 5lb off those to have won a Class 1 hurdle race and 3lb from winners of Class 2s or Class 1 handicaps.
So she's been quite cannily placed as you might expect and the unseat at Leopardstown may ultimately turn out to be a blessing in disguise.
Honeysuckle has been usurped by Epatante at the top of the market and the latter isn't short of gears. Her jumping was a bit sticky at Kempton on her UK debut but there was improvement in that department at Exeter last time and Nicky Henderson obviously isn't too concerned about her lack of experience.
Honeysuckle's stable companion Sinoria beat subsequent Grade Two winner Chosen Mate in a Listed event at Punchestown and looks a progressive mare with real potential but she's still got a little way to go on the bare form.
Like Honeysuckle, Posh Trish has the maximum weight penalty but has to be respected given her sheer toughness. She also has bumper winning form around Cheltenham if you go back to the start of last season so there's no issue on that score.
Paul Nicholls' horse could be the biggest danger to Epatante but second-season novice Salsaretta has unfinished business at Cheltenham it seems and is one to back now with the money-back concession should she head elsewhere.
Antepost Angle: Cheltenham Festival schedule
- Monday January 7 - RSA Chase
- Monday January 14 - Magners Cheltenham Gold Cup & Ryanair Chase
- Monday January 21 - Unibet Champion Hurdle & Sun Racing Stayers' Hurdle
- Monday January 28 - Racing Post Arkle & JLT Novices' Chase
- Monday February 4 - Sky Bet Supreme Novices' Hurdle, Ballymore Novices' Hurdle & Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle
- Monday February 11 - No preview this week...
- Monday February 18 - National Hunt Chase & JCB Triumph Hurdle
- Thursday February 28 - OLBG Mares' Hurdle & Tattersalls Mares' Novices' Hurdle
- Monday March 4 - Cheltenham Festival handicaps - including Ultima Handicap Chase, Coral Cup Handicap Hurdle and Grand Annual Handicap Chase
- Thursday March 7 - Any other business, including current positions and additional selections
Posted at 1600 GMT on 28/03/19.