Dan Skelton will have a new experience at Stratford this afternoon when he sends out his first runner as a racehorse trainer. It has taken a year in the planning since his initial discussions about his ambitions with Paul Nicholls, with whom he was assistant trainer for nine years.
At about half past three Skelton will saddle up Gavroche Gaugain for Stratford’s 2m 3f handicap hurdle, and the moment can’t come soon enough. He said, “This has been the focus for a long time now and I just can’t wait to get going. It’s pure excitement. He’s fit and ready. He’s a lowly rated horse in the right grade; whether that’s good enough we’ll find out.”
Since January, when he received planning permission, Skelton has transformed the 90 acres of Lodge Hill, a working livestock farm near Alcester into a brand new racing stable. That’s involved building boxes and gallops, completed in May, as well as improving the general land quality so that he can himself produce much of the hay that is a major part of the horses’ diet. No questions of provenance there.
One key piece of equipment you wouldn’t immediately think of is an industrial ice-making machine. The ice is used to fill special boots that horses wear after racing or exercise to help reduce any swelling they have incurred.
Once the building work was completed, Skelton needed horses, and many of the 50 or so he now has are completely unknown quantities. He bought 14 in the spring sales, but has several experienced animals as well. One of these, American Trilogy, has come with him from the Nicholls yard, and the rookie trainer will be hoping that the change of scenery brings a change of fortune for the nine-year-old gelding. Although he’s won four of his 24 races, including the Vincent O’Brien County Hurdle in 2009, in the past two and a half years, his only success was in the novelty Legends Charity race on last year’s Grand National day.
The Skelton family has a long and successful relationship with horses. Dad Nick, whose own place is just 400 yards up the road from Lodge Hill, has had a 40 year career in show jumping, and brother Harry, who will ride most of the stable’s horses, is an accomplished jockey. There’s plenty then, for Dan to live up to, but he could hardly have had a better grounding than those years spent with Paul Nicholls.