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Dan Skelton admits Roksana will face tough task retaining Mares' Hurdle crown

Mon 10 Feb 2020

Dan Skelton believes Roksana will have her work cut out defending her title in the Close Brothers Mares’ Hurdle at next month’s Cheltenham Festival.

The eight-year-old will bid to open her account for the season by making it back-to-back victories in the Grade One prize.

With both Irish Champion Hurdle winner Honeysuckle and the Willie Mullins-trained Benie Des Dieux, who is unbeaten since a final-flight fall in the race 12 months ago, among the potential opposition, Skelton is under no illusions of the task ahead for Roksana.

Skelton said: “Roksana will go straight to the mares’ race at Cheltenham.

“Make no mistake about it, Kenny Alexander’s mare (Honeysuckle) and Benie Des Dieux turning up has caused a significant problem for us, but you can’t pick your opposition.

“She will go there with a chance, as she will be ready for it.

“If I had either of the other two mares, I would be doing the same and going for the mares’ race.”

Having beaten only one home in the Coral Hurdle at Ascot on her penultimate start, Roksana appeared to be running back into form last time out, finding only Summerville Boy too strong in the Relkeel Hurdle at Cheltenham.

Skelton added: “That was much more like it last time. The winner has since gone on to be second in the Cleeve, which was obviously good.

“This is the race we have planned and all those mares start to thrive then.

“If we go there and finish third behind those two, it will be an outstanding run.”

Impressive Huntingdon scorer Third Time Lucki will attempt to complete a hat-trick of victories for the season when stepping up to Grade One company for the first time in the Weatherbys Champion Bumper.

Skelton said: “He is a very good horse, with a lot of natural talent and speed, and I think the race will suit him as he has had enough experience now.

“He is settling all right in his races now, but it is a big ask and the Irish normally dominate in these races.

“You need a lot of class in that bumper to still be in with a chance turning in – he has plenty of it, so let’s go and have a look and see if he can do the business.”

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