Harry Skelton looks to close the gap on Brian Hughes at Stratford today
The Cheltenham Festival is over for another year, but there is still plenty of jump racing action to come, including the Randox Health Grand National, before the 2020/21 season ends next month, writes David Hucker.
This time last year, racing had been suspended under the national coronavirus lockdown but, although still not open to the public, today, Monday sees the second meeting of the new season at Stratford, broadcast live on subscription channel Racing TV.
Owners will also be returning to the racecourse today, with two people per horse admitted under the BHA Covid-19 protocol.
One jockey who gave the Cheltenham Festival a miss was defending champion Brian Hughes, who went in search of winners elsewhere, increasing his lead over Harry Skelton to ten.
Although the last week has seen Skelton on a roll, including a four-timer at Hereford on Wednesday, he has drawn a blank in the last 48 hours and the gap still stands at six going into today's meeting.
The eight-race card kicks off at 1.50pm with the Watch On Racing TV Novices' Hurdle (Novices' Championship Hurdle Series Qualifier) over two miles and half a furlong in which Hughes rides Faitque De L'Isle, making his British debut for trainer Ed de Giles, but Skelton looks to have a good chance of reducing the gap further with Stepney Causeway, an impressive winner here last time.
Next up is the Join Racing TV Now Handicap Chase over two miles and three furlongs and Hughes will be hoping that Nightfly, well-handicapped on his best form, will add to his tally, but this looks to lie between course and distance winner Jarlath and Jemima P who met at Exeter last time with Jarlath having a 7lb pull in the weights today.
Embole was chasing a hat-trick at Warwick last time, but was beaten when falling at the last.
He drops both in distance and class in the Racecourse Live Steams On Racing TV Extra Selling Hurdle over an extended two-and-a-quarter miles and could be another for Skelton, with the main threat coming from Mizen Master, a course winner when trained by Olly Murphy.
Rio Quinto hasn't been seen out since December but, with Olly Murphy's stable in good form, he could be the one to be on in the long-distance Bet At racingtv.com Handicap Hurdle.
The consistent Midnightreferendum deserves a change of luck and she looks the one to beat in the feature race of the afternoon, the £12,200 Visit racingtv.com Handicap Chase over two-and-three-quarter miles.
Born Survivor continues to drop down the ratings, running here from a mark of 135 compared to 152 at his best, but hasn't won for two years now.
With the 100% Racing TV Profits Go Back To Racing Handicap Hurdle over two-and-three-quarter miles attracting 62 entries, the race looked likely to be divided and a field of 16 will line up in each of the two divisions.
In the first, Billy Ray, who disappointed behind Onemorefortheroad at Doncaster, but had previously finished runner-up to Embole at Wetherby, is one for the shortlist, along with Our Rockstar, who is returning after a 161-day absence, having been sent off favourite behind the progressive Rose Of Aghaboe last time.
The much travelled Sissinghurst is now with his fourth trainer, having won for Ryan Potter back in December and, whilst he is 10lbs above his last winning mark, could give jockey Ned Fox his first winner in the second division at the expense of maiden Outisaid.
The Every Race Live On Racing TV Standard Open National Hunt Flat Race rounds off the afternoon in which Hughes rides Kempton Park winner Bricklagger for trainer Emma Lavelle.
Runner-up Grosvenor Court failed to frank the form in a similar race at Huntingdon next time and third placed Phillipstown Ellen was pulled up over hurdles, so it may pay to look elsewhere with Crystal Moon and Get Sky High both bringing form into the race.