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Countdown to Cheltenham: Roksana, Sporting John targets confirmed

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ntries for the Cheltenham Festival handicaps were unveiled yesterday, but we’ll wait until the weights are released next week to pick out some key pointers.

In the meantime, Dan Skelton has confirmed the Mares’ Hurdle as the most likely target to Roksana, “unless the ground comes up good, good to soft” in which case she would head to the Stayers’s. 

Roksana won the race two years ago when Benie Des Dieux fell at the last and finishes fourth last year, but has looked an improved horse this season, finishing third in the Grade 1 Long Walk at Ascot. 

“The form she’s been in this year means that no one frightens us, in Britain anyway,” Skelton told the Racing Post. “The Irish raiders are going to be an unknown in the mares’ race and that’s where the strength lies, but we’re happy and we’re looking forward to it.

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Sporting John headed for Monkfish clash 

Like Skelton, Phillip Hobbs appears to have settled on a Festival target for one of his stable stars, with Sporting John heading for the Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase.

Given the unenviable task of taking on either Envoi Allen or Monkfish, Hobbs has opted for the latter after his six-year-old stayed on stoutly in testing ground to win the Grade 1 Scilly Isles at Sandown. 

“I think unless it is very deep ground he will go for the longer race,” Hobbs said. “He got better and better as the race went on at Sandown – and as it was only his second run over fences, you can understand that a lot of it was through greenness.”

Festival heroes could get farewell

Not specifically to do with this year’s meeting, but two Festival greats of years gone by could be set for swan songs at this year’s Punchestown Festival. 

Faugheen and Douvan – both dual Festival winners owned by the Riccis and trained by Willie Mullins – have not been seen this season because of injuries and won’t make Cheltenham, but Mullins reported yesterday that neither are certain to be retired without being seen on a racecourse again first. 

“We’ll look at Punchestown,” he said. “If things happen for Punchestown then all well and good, but if they don’t we’ll have a big chat then.”

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