Skelton charting direct Festival route for Nube Negra

Nube Negra will not run again before the Queen Mother Champion Chase after failing to meet expectations at Sandown on Saturday.

Beaten just half a length by Put The Kettle On in last season’s Champion Chase, Dan Skelton’s charge made an impressive reappearance on his return to Cheltenham for last month’s Shloer Chase.

The seven-year-old was widely expected to give hot favourite Chacun Pour Soi most to think about in the Tingle Creek, but like the market leader, performed well below par.

While Skelton is keen not to make any excuses for Nube Negra, he feels he will benefit from having a longer break ahead of his bid to bounce back at the Festival in March.

He said: “He’s grand – nothing ventured, nothing gained.

“Obviously he can be better than the result and we’ll just keep him fresh now until Cheltenham.

“Clearly, he has to be fresh, so we’ll go straight for the Champion Chase.”

Third Time Lucki was another to disappoint at Sandown
Third Time Lucki was another to disappoint at Sandown (David Davies/PA)

Nube Negra was one of three Skelton big guns who came up short over the weekend, with Third Time Lucki fading out of contention in Sandown’s Henry VIII Novices’ Chase and Allmankind doing similar in the Peterborough Chase at Huntingdon on Sunday.

“There were no excuses with any of them going into the races. We learned a little bit from each of the runs, as you would hope you would – you always learn, whether you win or lose,” Skelton added.

“Third Time Lucki never really got into the same rhythm jumping-wise as he did at Cheltenham last time.

“It was a third run in seven weeks and maybe he can be a little fresher as well, but I’m not making excuses for these horses. I was happy with them going into it and like I said, you learn from it.

“We’ll get him freshened up now. He’ll probably go to Warwick for the Kingmaker in January and then on to Cheltenham in March.

Allmankind could not add to an Aintree win at Huntingdon
Allmankind could not add to an Aintree win at Huntingdon (Jeff Holmes/PA)

“Allmankind was just flat – that wasn’t him at all. Going up the straight his jumping left was accentuated, but he’s won a Grade One right-handed and it’s not really an issue when he’s on form.

“These top-end races take a lot out of a horse and it takes some time to recover from them.”

There was a significant bright spot for the team over the weekend, however, with Protektorat establishing himself as a Gold Cup contender with a runaway success in Aintree’s Many Clouds Chase.

Skelton plans to give the six-year-old just one more run prior to the blue riband in March and has ruled out a festive trip to Leopardstown for the Savills Chase.

Protektorat impressed at Aintree on Saturday
Protektorat impressed at Aintree on Saturday (Tim Goode/PA)

He said: “Protektorat was absolutely magic. I was delighted with how he’s stepped up in trip. We always thought the ability was there and he’s matured and become more consistent.

“We’ll give him one run before the Gold Cup, but I don’t know where that will be.

“He won’t be going to Ireland at Christmas and it won’t be the Cotswold Chase at Cheltenham (in January) as I think the ground and everything would make it a hard experience for him.

“The idea is to have him at his very best for the Gold Cup.”

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