Skelton matches pace with Hughes in title race

Harry Skelton is favourite with the bookmakers to claim his maiden jockeys’ title after remaining just three winners behind defending champion Brian Hughes thanks to his double at Warwick.

While Hughes was adding two winners to his tally up at Newcastle, Skelton did likewise at his local track for his brother Dan’s Warwickshire stable on King D’argent and Stylish Dancer.

Dan Skelton nonetheless pointed out that Hughes is still in front – albeit by only 129 to 126, as the title race approaches its final month –  and the champion has several of the best yards in the north to call on.

He said: “Harry is looking at it as such a thrill, because he’s always wanted to be the champion jockey, and nothing would give me greater pleasure than getting him over the line.

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“Harry has gone favourite with the bookies, but Brian has the lead – and if it all stops tomorrow he has won.

“We need good competition, and the two Harrys and Brian are giving us that in a classic ‘North’ (Brian) versus ‘Middle England’ (Harry) and the ‘South’ (Harry Cobden) battle that looks like it could go down to the wire.

“But we also need to remember that challenging is the first part of the equation – and the second is winning.

“You can’t do the second without embracing the first- but Brian has the initiative, and it’s going to be tight.”

Dan Skelton hopes fences will continue to prove the making of Stylish Dancer after the 5-4 favourite’s near eight-length victory in the Watch On Racing TV Mares’ Novices’ Handicap Chase.

“She’s very good at her fences and sets herself right,” he said.

“She just managed to scrape home in a handicap hurdle, but was weak and has become stronger.

“I won’t press the button too soon with her, and I’m looking at a valuable three-and-a-quarter-mile mares’ chase at Cheltenham next month.”

After King d’Argent’s eight-and-a-half-length win from Benatar as the 11-8 favourite in the Bet At Handicap Chase, Skelton added: “I’m gobsmacked at how much he’s improved over a fence.

“It just shows you how those juveniles can get lost in the wilderness for a year, but now he’s a credit to himself.

“He’s back better than ever, and it’s 50/50 whether we go for a Listed handicap at Ayr.”

Looking forward to some of his yard’s big names heading for valuable targets this spring, the Alcester handler said: “We’ll have a full team for Aintree – including novice chasers Shan Blue and Protectorate, novice hurdlers Third Time Lucki and My Drogo and Blaklion in the National.

“Nube Negra will head for the Celebration Chase at Sandown, while Allmankind might stretch out in trip in a novice chase at Ayr.”

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