Dan Skelton mare Roksana has been highly consistent over timber, so looks worth a wager to take the step back into Grade 2 company in her stride in the extended 2m 3f Coral Hurdle at Ascot on Saturday (14:40).
The seven-year-old has never finished outside of the first three in nine outings in this sphere. Roksana progressed throughout 2017-18 to score at this level on her handicap debut at Newbury.
That completed a hat-trick of hurdles wins before she was far from disgraced when chasing home Santini in a Grade 1 at Aintree.
Connections were dreaming of a crack at Mares’ Hurdle glory at the Cheltenham Festival with her last term.
As with the previous campaign, Roksana came on for her reappearance when third to the mighty Buveur D’Air in a Listed affair at Sandown when scoring in her main target at Prestbury Park.
There was a good deal of luck involved as hot favourite Benie Des Dieux came to grief at the final flight when in front, but Roksana profited from that slice of fortune.
Although chinned in the final strides by the re-opposing If The Cap Fits next time up in another Grade 1 at Aintree, this intermediate trip arguably suits the mare better.
After again losing by a narrow margin on Merseyside and reappearance to Top Notch, Roksana should strip fitter for that.
With that run under belt and as she gets weight all-round, Coral Hurdle odds of 11/4 with William Hill appeal most.
The Skelton yard is operating at a 28 per cent strike rate with its runners in the last 14 days at the time of writing.
That makes Roksana, whose Grade 1 penalty is offset by her sex allowance, the one to be on.
Call Me Lord feared on pick of form
Seven Barrows handler Nicky Henderson has won this race three times before, so Call Me Lord commands respect – especially when treated on the pick of his form.
This six-year-old is owned by Simon Munir and Isaac Souede and something of a Sandown specialist.
Things didn’t really drop right for Call Me Lord last season when he was unlucky at this venue in the Grade 1 Long Walk Hurdle.
The Slickly gelding got badly hampered at the eighth flight and impeded again two out. It left Call Me Lord with no chance and he thus wasn’t disgraced when trailing in seventh to top British stayer Paisley Park.
He then returned to Sandown and went markedly down in trip for the Imperial Cup that he also contested 12 months earlier.
Despite again carrying top-weight, Call Me Lord hit the frame again coming from well off the pace to be third.
When pitched into Grade 2 company the previous season following his neck second to Mr Antolini, he bolted up by 16 lengths in the Select Hurdle.
An intermediate trip may be exactly what Call Me Lord wants and odds of 15/8 with Unibet reflect that here.
If turning up in the Coral Hurdle in the same shape as that Select success of 2018, then this French import is feared.
Call Me Lord has yet to win a race on his seasonal reappearance, however, and may need the run.
Coral Hurdle winner If The Cap Fits may need further
Although he won the race 12 months ago, If The Cap Fits had the benefit of a run under his belt then and has since enjoyed a Grade 1 breakthrough over further.
Trained by Harry Fry, who also saddled Rock On Ruby to Coral Hurdle glory in 2015, the seven-year-old son of Milan is still lightly-raced after just eight starts in this sphere.
If The Cap Fits hit a hat-trick of minor hurdles wins in 2017, but missed the second half of that campaign. Fry has minded this Paul and Clare Rooney owned horse.
He came on for a reappearance run when chasing home good ground mare Verdana Blue in the Grade 2 Elite Hurdle at Wincanton last term with victory in this.
This Coral Hurdle renewal is more competitive, however, and If The Cap Fits couldn’t follow-up when down in distance for and third in the Christmas Hurdle.
He was never going the pace to challenge Verdana Blue and Buveur D’Air at Kempton. When back over a similar trip in the National Spirit at Fontwell, If The Cap Fits kept on to chase home Vision Des Flos.
It took 3m at Aintree on Grand National day in the Liverpool Hurdle to bring out a career best from him.
If The Cap Fits showed real guts and rallied superbly to overcome a bad blunder at the last, stay on and get up in-between horses to just touch Roksana off by a head. The pair meet off the same terms, but over half-a-mile shorter.
As Roksana comes into this race fit and with the drop back in trip in her favour, If The Cap Fits is taken on despite odds of 100/30 with race sponsors Coral.