Dan Skelton is confident a step up in trip will unlock further improvement from talented mare Elle Est Belle, who will attempt to secure the third Listed success of her career in the Urban Logistics REIT Sidney Banks Memorial Novices’ Hurdle at Huntingdon on Thursday (February 10th).
After winning at Listed level in a mares’ bumper at Cheltenham last season and opening her account over hurdles at Newbury in November, the six-year-old will bid to strike gold at the same level for the third time in the extended 2m 3f feature.
Recent winners of the prize include the outstanding Shishkin in 2020, who went on to win the Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival on his next start and is currently unbeaten in seven starts over fences.
Elle Est Belle is yet to tackle a trip as far as the one on her latest assignment but Skelton has maximum faith that the daughter of Fame And Glory, who finished a close fourth behind Jonbon in a Grade Two contest at Ascot just before Christmas, will see out the extra distance.
Skelton said: “She was very progressive winning her Listed race at Newbury. The race didn’t suit her at Ascot when she finished behind Jonbon.
“I’m very happy with her and I think the step up to this trip can be seen as a positive. She was always going to want a step up and this race is the right time to do that.
“She has been good over hurdles so far and she has won two Listed races which are the sort of races she is supposed to be winning, but there is room for improvement. The track will be no problem for her and I think she should run very well.”
In four starts last season Elle Est Belle established herself as one of the leading bumper performers in Britain.
After winning her first two starts she then finished third at Cheltenham in the Weatherbys Champion Bumper at The Festival™ before claiming second in the Grade Two Goffs UK Nickel Coin Mares’ Standard Open National Hunt Flat Race at Aintree.
And although the Suzanne Lawrence-owned mare is yet to quite reach those same heights in three starts over hurdles this campaign Skelton feels her best days remain ahead of her.
He added: “I think we are yet to get to the sort of form she showed in her bumpers last season over hurdles just yet.
“I think there is plenty more improvement to come and stepping up in trip will help bring some of that out. She is easy to deal with at home and always goes nicely. She has done everything right and everything is all very positive.”
3:10pm Urban Logistics Reit Sidney Banks Memorial Novices' Hurdle (Listed Race) 2m 3f 137y
1 Gentleman At Arms (IRE) 5 11 5 (D & B Partnership) Stuart Edmunds/Ciaran Gethings
2 Harbour Lake (IRE) 6 11 5 (Exors of the late Mr Trevor Hemmings) Alan King/Tom Cannon
3 Jerrash 5 11 5 (Mr Jerry Hinds & Mr Ashley Head) Gary Moore/Jamie Moore
4 Wonderwall (IRE) 6 11 5 (Rebel Jumping II) Richard Spencer/James Bowen
5 Elle Est Belle 6 11 3 (Mrs Suzanne Lawrence) Dan Skelton/Harry Skelton
Elsewhere on the card Skelton believes the combination of a return to calmer waters and a recent wind operation can help revive the fortunes of Wilde About Oscar, who will bid to open his account for the campaign in the M1 Agency Handicap Hurdle (2m 3½f).
The seven-year-old is yet to beat a rival in two starts this season after trailing home last in the Betway Hurdle at Aintree in November before filling the same position in the Grade Two Unibet International Hurdle at Cheltenham in December.
He said: “He has got a bit more on his plate carrying top weight in what will be a competitive handicap but he won a competitive handicap off top weight last season.
“He ran better than the finishing result suggested at Aintree, but nothing ever happened for him at Cheltenham. Whether that was the trip or the ground I’ve no idea.
“He has been struggling for form and we have done his wind and hopefully that should give him a chance back in calmer waters.”