Trainers Skelton and Tizzard on the mark at Sandown ahead of big Cheltenham Festival

By Peter Moore at Sandown Park Saturday 9th March 2024

Trainers Joe Tizzard and Dan Skelton warmed up for next weeks Cheltenham Festival with a double on Betfair Imperial Cup Day at Sandown Park on Saturday.

Tizzard, picked up a quick fire double by saddling Scarface and Rose Of Arcadia to victory with Skelton successful with Honky Tonk Highway and Jet Plane at 22-1 in the finale.

Tizzard will team up with his nephew Freddie Gingell in a bid to topple El Fabiolo and Jonbon with Elixir De Nutz in the Champion Chase on Wednesday, while Powell nominated Lightning Novices’ Chase winner JPR One as his standout chance in the Arkle on the opening day.

“I’m really looking forward to next week,” he said. “I’ve been riding for 13 years now and I’ve never gone to the festival with a live Grade 1 chance in a race like the Arkle.

Meanwhile, another trainer in outstanding form at the moment is Ben Pauling. Firmly on track for his best season ever, the Naunton based trainer saddled a 1-2 in the Betfair National Hunt Novices Handicap Hurdle run over 2m 3f.

The trainer landed the Grade 2 Premier Novices Hurdle last weekend with Personal Ambition, and Champagne Twist and Pic Roc didn’t disappoint.

The stablemates duel lasted the length of the home straight with nothing to separate then, but it was Champagne Twist and Ben Jones who got up to beat Kielan Woods on Pic Roc by a length and a half.

“It was a brilliant result,” Pauling said. “I couldn’t really split them. Kielan wanted to ride one and Ben wanted to ride the other, so it worked quite well. These owners are a group of my great mates. 

“Pic Roc ran a mighty race in second. He probably got a bit lonely out in front after doing plenty and got nabbed on the line, but they’ve both run really well.”

Jones has been a key part of Pauling’s excellent season with regular number-one rider Woods serving a lengthy suspension.

Pauling will be represented in each of the premier novice races at the Cheltenham Festival next week, with Harry Cobden confirmed to continue his association with Gallagher Novices’ Hurdle contender Handstands.

Dan and Harry Skelton missed out in a photo finish with Faivoir but were successful with Honky Tonk Highway in the mares bumper ahead of Rula Bula with the pair completing the double with Jet Plane who caught Can You Call in the run in.

The feature race of the day the Betfair Imperial Cup was won by the 5-1 favourite Go Dante trained by Olly Murphy with Sean Bowen on board.

In a pulsating finish, Bowen just got the better of his best friend Skelton with Go Dante improving on his third in the Betfair Hurdle at Newbury last month.

“I’m best friends with Harry and I go racing with him four days a week, so it’s a good job I didn’t get a lift here with him,” the trainer said. “I’m absolutely over the moon to be on the right side of the photo. I’d rather it was someone else than Harry but he’s done it to me more than I have to him, so I won’t feel too bad.

“It gives me an awful lot of satisfaction. A lot of work has gone into this horse. He broke his pelvis in a Challow Hurdle and we gave him a load of time off, then he had a schooling accident and damaged a lung, which kept him out for another few months. He’s massively given me headaches.”

Go Dante has an entry in next weeks County Hurdle, but Murphy said after the race the horse would not go to Cheltenham but instead will go to the Grand National festival.