Langer Dan kicked off what could be an excellent few days for Dan and Harry Skelton when cruising to victory in the Paddy Power Imperial Cup at Sandown.
Once again Dan Skelton proved he is among the best at targeting the big prizes, while his brother Harry is putting up a stern challenge in his quest to be champion jockey.
With the likes of Roksana, Third Time Lucki, Shan Blue, Nube Negra and Allmankind heading to Cheltenham next week, the Skeltons could have the week of their lives and now Langer Dan is as low as 8-1 with Paddy Power for the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle – the closing event of the Festival.
His supporters in this race had a brief moment of worry coming out of the back straight when Harry Skelton was short of room and got shuffled to the back of the pack.
However, in a matter of strides he was soon back on the bridle and breezed around the field to challenge Miss Heritage.
By then ante-post favourite Natural History had cried enough and Langer Dan (5-1) breezed to victory by four lengths from Miss Heritage, with Mack The Man back in third.
Dan Skelton said: “I have got so much admiration for this little horse. Colm (Donlon, owner) bought him last year, as he always likes to have a juvenile.
“When he started this year, we thought he’d be one of those horses who would just have a juvenile season. But he is a credit to himself. He’s so tough and we took the pressure off him after the autumn and he has thrived.
“He’s tiny, but he has a great attitude and he’s all heart. He won a Listed race as a juvenile and we bought him as a foal and I said to Colm one day when he was trotting round as a three-year-old, ‘I think we should give you your money back, because he hasn’t grown’.
“But it is not the size of the horse, it is the size of the heart and he is all heart.
“His chances of getting in the Martin Pipe are nil, but if that nil becomes something, he’ll run. And whatever price he is, then he is what he is and his chance will be what it will be. It is hard to turn around quickly at this time of year, but given the prestige, he’ll have to have a go if he gets in.”
He added: “He is a magic little horse and he deserved it. He is tough competitor. He ran really well in last year’s Boodles and actually, funnily enough, that is our first winner over hurdles at Sandown.
“I’ve never had a winner on the hurdles track. He made a good jump two out after he had been shuffled back, which put him in a good position. He doesn’t like to be produced too soon and he needs to do as little as possible in the race. If you put him in the race too soon, he does too much.
“Maybe it is not the strongest Imperial Cup, but you can only beat what is put in front of you.
“I would like to think we will go to Aintree, but he is a horse who thrives with not having pressure. He had all that pressure last year and handled it well, but this year we have taken that pressure off him and he’s thrived because of it.
“Let’s see what the ground is like. He is only five and hopefully we have plenty of time with this horse.
“If everything is OK, we’ll run on Friday with him and we’ll consider Aintree. But at the end of the day he has won a big race today, so we will celebrate that.”