Fair chance of a Foxhunter victory for Warwickshire

Dan Skelton wouldn't be a trainer you'd naturally associate with hunter chases, but he enjoyed a winner at Leicester on Tuesday when his amateur rider, Tristan Durrell, rode Marracudja to victory in the Betting & Gaming Council Open Hunters Chase over 2m6f.


Skelton, who will send a powerful team to Cheltenham in a fortnight, including Protektorat, Shan Blue and Nube Negra, produced Marracudja to win his first hunters chase after six Rules wins , from Indirocco, ridden by the stable's leading lady, Gina Andrews. Unlike his former boss, Paul Nicholls, Skelton has not kept his eye in at the grass roots of the sport.


It's been another busy week in the Hunter chase calendar although none of the participants are headed to Cheltenham. Last year's Cheltenham Foxhunter winner has been re-routed to Aintree, where he will meet last year's winner Cousin Pascal. The simple view is that this leaves the Cheltenham race open to another Willie Mullins horse in Billaway, but don't be so sure.


Among the 31 entries are three from Tom Ellis' yard in Warwickshire, including the unbeaten Dubai Quest, Fumet d'oudairies and Latenightpass. Dubai Quest has done nothing wrong all season, winning an Open ay Chaddesley's Harkaway fixture, and freshening up in a Wetherby Hunter chase at the start of February. He is lightly-raced this winter.


Fumet d'oudairies has shown a penchant fpr Horseheath, four of his wins taking place there. Second to Vaucelet in the John Corbett Cup at Stratford last May, he is unbeaten in two Open races at Horseheath this winter but may have a little to find on his stable companion. the choice of jockey if they both run will be revealing.


Latenightpass was only beaten 2 1/2l by Cousin Pascal at Aintree last April, and this may yet be his main target again. He was rated 137 after that effort, and has been unbeaten this season, but he may yet have something to find against the Irish challengers and another Warwickshire horse in Jett, the mount of Sam Waley-Cohen.


Jett was beaten 5 1/2l into second place by Shantou Flyer, one of three possible runners for fellow Corinthian David Maxwell, at Fontwell last week. Nevertheless he is rated a full 10lb better than Latenightpass on his last Rules form and shouldn't be discounted. The Waley-Cohens certainly know what is required to win at Cheltenham, and for that matter, Aintree.


Ironically, selecting a horse with an unbeaten record is no guarantee of success at Cheltenham. The simple facts are that many of the Open races and Hunter chases they have won have been bloodless victories where the opposition was scared away. This too is the case with Ireland's leading fancy, Billaway, who hasn't much been tested in his season to date as the film beneath of Billaway at Naas illustrates (see 7:35)





It promises to be very different on March 18th.

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