Star’s new brand ambassador HARRY SKELTON with his thoughts ahead of his rides at Chepstow on Saturday plus his reaction to this week’s Grand National changes …..
Saturday at Chepstow
2:30 – Native River Handicap Chase (GBB Race) (Class 2) (4YO plus) 2m 7½f
I start off on Saturday with Hidden Heroics in the three-mile handicap chase. He did well over fences last season, winning at Exeter and Cheltenham, but the handicapper had his say after that and put him up quite a lot in the weights. He’s coming back to what is hopefully a competitive mark and has done plenty of work at home. We don’t want the ground to go too soft for him, but he goes well fresh and we’re hopeful of a good run.
3:10 – Happy Birthday Sue Novices’ Chase (Listed) (For The Robert Mottram Memorial Trophy) (GBB Race) (Class 1) (4YO plus) 2m 3½f
Unexpected Party runs in the Listed novice chase. We’ve had this race in mind for the grey (pictured below) since the end of last season. He’s got some very good form over fences, including when running very well at Cheltenham in Grade 1 company. He’s still a novice after taking on some useful horses last year, but he’s got plenty of experience and hopefully that will stand him in good stead. It looks a very competitive field, with Knappers Hill being top rated over hurdles, and you’d have to give him plenty of respect. However, our horse has done loads of work at home and hopefully he can give a good account of himself.
3:40 – John Ayres Memorial Handicap Chase (GBB Race) (Class 2) (4YO plus) 2m 3½f
Next up I ride Our Jet who won last season over fences at Leicester. You can put a line through his last run at the end of the season at Kempton as the ground just got too soft for him there. He’s undergone a wind operation during the summer and has done enough work at home, so we’re looking forward to getting him back on track. I do think he’ll come forward a bit from this though.
We also run Walk In Clover who gets in right at the bottom of the weights. Tristan Durrell gets on very well with her, as he proved when winning a Grade 2 on her at Cheltenham in April. She’s got a run under her belt which is a positive. She’s suited by coming from off a strong pace, which hopefully she’ll get here, and she wouldn’t be without a chance.
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4:15 – Wasdell Group Silver Trophy Handicap Hurdle (GBB Race) (Class 2) (4YO plus) 2m 3½f
We run two in the Silver Trophy. I take the ride on Boombawn
(pictured below) and this has been the plan since he won at Aintree in the spring. He’s creeping up the handicap but hopefully there’s still a little bit more improvement to come from his mark. He stayed on strongly at Aintree and this step up to two-and-a-half miles looks sure to suit him. We’re hopeful of a good run in what is a very competitive race.
Tristan Durrell takes the ride on Molly Ollys Wishes
and takes a handy five pounds off her back. She’s been a great mare for us, she’s just come to hand of late and we’ve been happy with her. Now dropping down the weights, she always runs well fresh so I think she can be competitive.
5:22 – Unibet Open NH Flat Race (GBB Race) (Class 4) (4YO to 5YO) 2m
In the bumper I ride Albie Littlewood who is a nicely bred youngster out of the family of Roksana. He’s been showing us all the right signs at home and looks ready to make his debut. You never know what you’re up against in these sorts of races, but I’d hope he can run well. We’re looking forward to getting him started.
The other one we run is Don Occhetti who’s another with a nice pedigree but he wouldn’t want the ground too soft. Tristan Durrell rides.
Grand National race changes
The Grand National is a unique spectacle. It’s the people’s race. The question is ‘why do so many people watch the Grand National?’ I’d say because it’s different, it’s a unique test with more runners and different fences.
The changes that have been made are sensible changes. I think moving the first fence closer to the start is a good idea and that will mean runners can’t gather as much speed approaching it.
I’m not sure I’m of favour of reducing the number of runners to 34 though, because the National fences are very wide and there’s a lot of space. The field is actually much more spread out and we don’t race as tightly in the National as we would around a sharp track like Hereford or Stratford for instance.
I also think they’ve got to be careful about reducing the size of fences because you’re increasing the likelihood of runners going faster over them.
Obviously, we’ve got to move with the times and make necessary changes, but we also must protect what the race is, because that’s why people tune in to watch it and bet on it. If it loses that unique element, then it’ll become another staying handicap chase that doesn’t generate the same level of excitement and interest that the National brings. I think we need to be careful that it doesn’t become so altered that it becomes like another race. Yes, we’ve got the make the changes to ensure the race’s future, but we also need to stand up for what the Grand National is. There’s an element of danger in ever walk of life and we’re never going to please people who don’t support horse racing.
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