‘It’s over!’ Skelton fears title hopes have gone this term

Dan Skelton has all but conceded defeat in the race to be crowned Britain’s champion trainer ahead of the conclusion of the season at Sandown on Saturday.

The Alcester handler appeared to be in the box seat after a fantastic four strikes at the Cheltenham Festival last month saw him go ahead of his former boss and mentor Paul Nicholls, and he remains in front of the 14-times champion as the campaign reaches a climax.

However, Skelton was knocked off top spot after Willie Mullins saddled I Am Maximus to win the Grand National at Aintree and following a four-timer at Ayr seven days later, including the Scottish National success of Macdermott, the master of Closutton now appears almost certain to become the first Irish-based trainer to land the British title since Vincent O’Brien did so twice in the 1950s.

Following a Thursday treble at Warwick courtesy of Take No Chances (13-8 favourite), Ace Of Spades (9-4 favourite) and Jafimgoso (7-1), and with the likes of Langer Dan, Nube Negra and Le Milos part of his final day team, Skelton is still mathematically in with a shout of being top dog – but in his mind, he has already been beaten.

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Take No Chances and Harry Skelton on their way to victory at Warwick
Take No Chances and Harry Skelton on their way to victory at Warwick (David Davies/PA)

“As regards the trainers’ championship, to be quite honest with you, it’s over!” he told Racing TV.

“I can’t beat Willie, it would require our horses to win nearly every race they’re entered in on Saturday and him to have no prize-money at all.

“I can’t concede, because conceding means you walk off the pitch and we’re not walking off the pitch, we’re going to go down there Saturday, hopefully we’ve got some lovely chances and it’s great to run some nice horses.

“The reality of beating Willie is, it’s not reality, I’m afraid, but it’s been an absolute pleasure to have contested it.”

Skelton was keen to pay tribute to Mullins and his team, adding: “I think we have been beaten by somebody who is doing so well at the moment and all of the aces landed up for him.

“He’s won the Champion Hurdle, the Gold Cup and the Grand National all in the same year and when he needed to, he won the Scottish National by a head, so it feels like sometimes it’s meant to be.

“It’s been a pleasure and those two trainers (Mullins and Nicholls) will be no prouder than I am of my team – horses, owners, staff – it’s been a remarkable year.

“Hopefully we can get through £3million in prize-money. That’s only ever been done once by Nicky (Henderson) and six times by Paul before.

“I’m proud of what we’ve done and I’ll enjoy Saturday. I’m not going down there with any pressure, I know the reality of the situation.

“I thank everybody – media, owners and staff – who have built it up to be exciting, but I’m afraid that while the last day is going to be great for the sport, as regards the destination of that trophy, it feels like it’s won.”

Warwick Races – Thursday April 25th
Ace Of Spades ridden by jockey Harry Skelton (left) on their way to victory (David Davies/PA).

Whilst Skelton feels this chance has gone, he remains just as determined as ever to chase his dream of becoming champion in the future and is already planning for next season.

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He added: “Really, this year it only came about when Protektorat won the Ryanair.

“Before then, I suppose there was a moment in January when I was only 70 or 80 grand behind Paul and I thought ‘this could be interesting’. And then Paul got on a real run and went 200 to 300 clear, so it was gone from my mind then until Protektorat won.

“And then of course, it’s just been an honour to be involved in the battle with those two, but nothing will ever quell my enthusiasm to try and be champion trainer, everyone knows I want to try and do it.

“We’ve been very sensible with what we’ve run over the last week and we’re very sensible about what we’re running on Saturday, we can’t lose sight of that, we have to run the appropriate horses.

“Then we’ve got some to run through May and June, we’ll see how that goes, but I didn’t expect to be this close this year, so it came as a bit of a surprise.

“At times, it’s been very stressful, at times when you think you might be getting the upper hand and then things don’t go your way, you learn something new about yourself – you have to be a different type of professional, you have to conduct yourself in a different way.

“So, I’ve learned an awful lot from it and hopefully I can put those lessons to good use in the future and we’ll give it another go.”

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