How many winners did Steve Smith-Eccles ride at the Cheltenham Festival?

Former National Hunt jockey Steve Smith-Eccles retired from race riding in 1994 and is best remembered for winning the Champion Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival three years running on See You Then, trained by Nicky Henderson, in 1985, 1986 and 1987. However, seven years prior to winning the two-mile championship for the first time, Smith-Eccles had already recorded his first victory at the Cheltenham Festival, when landing the RSA Insurance Novices’ Chase aboard Sweet Joe, trained by Harry Thomson ‘Tom’ Jones, in 1978.

Sweet Joe suffered a career-ending injury early in the 1978/79 season, but aside from a notable hat-trick in the Champion Hurdle, Smith-Eccles also won the Triumph Hurdle twice, in 1985 and 1987, the Grand Annual Chase in 1985 and the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle in 1986, for a career total of eight winners at the Cheltenham Festival. Six of those eight winners – First Bout (1985), See You Then (1985, 1986 and 1987) River Ceiriog (1986) and Alone Success (1987) – were trained by Nicky Henderson, at whom Smith-Eccles once threw a punch during an argument, while Alan Jarvis rowed in with Kathies Lad (1985). Indeed, the three winners Smith-Eccles rode at the 1985 Cheltenham Festival were sufficient to win him the leading jockey award for the one and only time.

Which was Harry Skelton’s first Cheltenham Festival winner?

Harry Skelton is the younger son of Olympic gold medal winning showjumper Nick Skelton and stable jockey to his older brother, Dan, at Lodge Hill, near Alcester, Warwickshire in the West Midlands. In 2018/19, Skelton Jnr. enjoyed far and away his most successful season so far, with 178 winners – including his first Grade One winner, Roksana, in the David Nicholson Mares’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival – and over £2 million in prize money.

In the curtailed 2019/20 campaign, his seasonal tally fell to 97 winners, but nonetheless included two more Grade One winners, Allmankind in the Coral Final Juvenile Hurdle at Chepstow and Politologue, trained by Paul Nicholls, in the Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase at the Cheltenham Festival. Indeed, Skelton was named Jockey of the Month for March, 2019 as a result of his victory on the latter.

However, Skelton had recorded his first winner at the Cheltenham Festival three years earlier, courtesy of Superb Story, trained by his brother, in the Vincent O’Brien County Handicap Hurdle in 2016. Sent off at 8/1 third-favourite, behind 7/1 joint-favourites Great Fields and Wait For Me, the five-year-old could be called the winner some way from home and ran on strongly in the closing stages to beat Fethard Player by two-and-a-half lengths; in so doing, he also became a first Cheltenham Festival winner for Dan Skelton.

Who are Some of the Dark Horses for the 2021 Cheltenham Festival?

Even at an elite horse racing event like the Cheltenham Festival, it’s not always the favourites that win races. Sometimes, dark horses at bigger prices in the betting with bookmakers outrun their odds and pull off unexpected results.

For evidence of that, look no further than the 2020 Stayers Hurdle. The horses who finished first, second and third were all unfancied runners led home by 50/1 outsider Lisnagar Oscar, with 20/1 and 33/1 shots in-behind.

That begs the question, who are some of the dark horses for the 2021 Cheltenham Festival? Let’s take a look ahead of the four-day jumps racing extravaganza which will get underway on Tuesday, 16 March.

Dusart

 


The Nicky Henderson stable has made a good start to the meeting in recent years. Opening the Cheltenham Festival in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, a race in which he has trained the winner twice in the last five years.

Ronnie Bartlett-owned newcomer Dusart made a strong debut at Newbury; where the gelding by Flemensfirth won over Soaring Glory, who came into the race after victory at Chepstow. As he was conceding racecourse experience to most of his rivals, this horse looks a smart prospect.

He will need to make similar progress into graded races, but Dusart has already attracted market support from punters. The bookies have cut his horse racing odds for the Supreme into 16/1, while he is 25/1 for the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle over further.

Unexcepted

Master Irish trainer Willie Mullins has saddled more Cheltenham Festival winners than anyone else. His many successes include four of the last six horses that tasted victory in the Arkle Challenge Trophy for novice chasers. Those stats make Unexcepted the subject of obvious interest in that race following an impressive bow over fences.

Owned by legendary gambler JP McManus, who was again leading owner at the 2020 Cheltenham Festival, he is a typical French import to the Mullins stable. Although, Unexcepted only ran twice over hurdles since moving to Ireland.

He jumped superbly over the bigger obstacles at Tipperary and won eased down from Entoucas. That meant Unexcepted has value for more than the winning margin of eight lengths. Granted further improvement, the 16/1 about him for the Arkle makes this one another dark horse.

Easywork

 

After running some fine races in Grade 1 novice hurdles last season, Easywork is another to have won his chasing debut. Like many trained by Gordon Elliott in Ireland, this horse started life over fences at two miles but should appreciate much further.

Owners of Gigginstown House Stud have a fine recent record in the Marsh Novices’ Chase with three winners including Samcro in 2020 and as many placed horses in that race since 2012. With Easywork, they have options but that two-and-a-half miles event might suit him best.

He only seemed to be going best at Navan on his chase debut when jumping the last, so further than two miles is no problem. Easywork is a 25/1 chance in the ante-post betting for the Arkle, Marsh, and RSA Chase over three miles; so he could be well worth following this season and then see where he ends up at Cheltenham.

Which trainer and jockey combination was placed in seven consecutive renewals of the Grand National?

Despite numerous safety improvements down the years, the Grand National at Aintree can still, justifiably, be called ‘the ultimate test for horse and rider’. Indeed, many jockeys and trainers spend their whole careers attempting to win, or at least be placed in, the celebrated steeplechase. Of course, some jockeys and trainers are luckier than others, but to be placed in seven consecutive renewals, with three different horses, is no mean feat. That was the achievement of Vale of Glamorgan trainer Evan Williams and his erstwhile – now retired – stable jockey between 2009 and 2014 inclusive.

Interestingly, all three horses carried the blue and pink colours of Worcestershire owners Mr. & Mrs. William Rucker. State Of Play started the extraordinary run of good fortune for his connections by finishing fourth in 2009, third in 2010 and fourth again in 2011. Next into the Aintree unsaddling enclosure was Cappa Bleu, who finished fourth behind Neptune Collonges in 2012 and went one better when third behind Auroras Encore in 2013. Finally, completing the unlikely septet came Alvarado, who filled fourth place behind Pineau De Re in 2014 and occupied the same position behind Many Clouds in 2015.

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