Skelton sets New Year’s Day target for Protektorat

Protektorat will put his unbeaten record over fences on the line at Cheltenham on New Year’s Day in the Dipper Novices’ Chase.

Trainer Dan Skelton has earmarked the Paddy Power-sponsored Grade Two prize as the next target for the five year-old, who is two from two over the bigger obstacles.

After making a winning fencing debut at Carlisle, the Listed-winning hurdler added to that success when taking a step up to two and half miles in his stride with an impressive victory at Cheltenham last month.

Skelton said: “We’ve talked about it and digested it the best we can and I think we are going to try the Dipper, as he won around Cheltenham last time and two and a half miles on soft ground around there is perfect.

“People are going to be wondering where he is going rather than us looking at who else is going to be in the race.

“We have just got to go our route and decide what is best for us and I think that is best for us.”

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While Skelton was impressed with Protektorat’s victory over two miles on his seasonal return, he believes his latest success over a longer trip was another step forward.

He said: “Cheltenham was even better than Carlisle. He races a bit more relaxed now so that is good, and he finishes his races strong.

“He was upsides Southfield Stone three out and he kicked on and off he goes. If it had been really heavy I would have gone two (miles) last time, but he is definitely happier at two and a half. “

Shan Blue will step back up to Grade One company at Kempton on Boxing Day (Tim Goode/PA)
Shan Blue will step back up to Grade One company at Kempton on Boxing Day (Tim Goode/PA)

Shan Blue will return to Grade One company for the first time since finishing sixth in the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival in March in the Ladbrokes Kauto Star Novices’ Chase at Kempton on Boxing Day.

The six-year-old, who is unbeaten in two starts over fences, was denied an outing at Huntingdon after the meeting was called off due to a waterlogged track.

Skelton said: “Shan Blue will go straight to the Kauto Star now. He has been good in his first two starts this season.

“I got on and ran him early and he had two runs in October which were both around Wetherby, one at two and a half and the other at three, and he jumped great.

“His fitness is perfect and we jump him every week and he will be ready to go on King George day. He was 1-10 on to be better chaser and I’m delighted with how it has gone. You couldn’t have dreamt it would have gone much better.”

Although Shan Blue has yet to race right-handed over fences, Skelton is confident that will not be an issue at Kempton.

He added: “I’ve not got no concerns about him going right-handed as he was second to Shishkin in the Sidney Banks at Huntingdon.

“The race at Huntingdon was there for him and he could have gone there and had a day out on a right-handed flat track as that is where he was going afterwards.

“As it turns out he probably wouldn’t have run even if they had got the meeting on, as the ground would have been testing.”

The Alcester handler plans to give Allmankind a short break following his victory in the Grade One Henry VIII Novices’ Chase at Sandown, before readying him for the Kingmaker Novices’ Chase at Warwick in February.

He said: “Allmankind has come out the Henry VIII fine. He jumped spectacularly well. He jumped slightly out to his left which is his little trick, but it was only more noticeable over the Railway fences.

“He will go for the Kingmaker, then on to the Arkle, then to Aintree. I’m really happy winning a Grade One with him.

“I feel like he sets a decent standard for whoever takes him on next time.”

Harry Skelton enjoys afternoon to savour with Grade One double

Nothing will ever top Harry Skelton’s wedding day – but a Grade One double at Sandown highlighted by a second Betfair Tingle Creek success for Politologue ensured he celebrated another day to remember.

Success on the biggest stage has been plentiful for Skelton in recent seasons, and having steered the Paul Nicholls-trained grey to Queen Mother Champion Chase glory at the Cheltenham Festival in March, the pair teamed up to secure more top-level success together.

Watched by a crowd of 1,827, the 11-8 favourite defeated stablemate Greaneteen by seven lengths, in a race that came immediately after Skelton had partnered Allmankind, trained by his brother, Dan, to victory in the Planteur At Chapel Stud Henry VIII Novices’ Chase.

Skelton said: “It’s not a bad afternoon. Marrying my wife was pretty good so that would have to come top of the list, but this is a close second. It was a magic 45 minutes.

“Politologue was very good. He jumped the first two very well and I felt like I was in control of it then. When he was pricking his ears turning in where the Pond Fence is usually jumped I thought ‘there is plenty left in the tank here’. It is certainly a day I will never forget.

“To be honest I was coming here very relaxed. I knew I had two good rides and on their best form, and if they put their best performances up, they would be bang there and that is exactly what they have done.”

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While the decision made by Nicky Henderson to declare Altior 24 a non-runner on Friday evening robbed the Tingle Creek of some of its gloss, Skelton believes it would have taken something special to stop Politologue claiming the fourth Grade One of his career.

He said: “A horse like Altior is a fantastic horse and he was the strongest competition, but on the ground I’d rode on on Friday wasn’t too worried and they obviously took him out because of that.

“It made the job a bit easier, but it would have taken a good horse to have beaten him today. It is remarkable really.”

Having cut his teeth jumping with Nicholls, the 31-year-old praised the 11-times champion trainer for the part he has played in helping to rejuvenate the career of the John Hales-owned gelding.

He added: “He is getting older, but Paul just seems to make him younger somehow. I’ve sat on him a couple of times this time around in the autumn and a couple of weeks ago I schooled him and he did feel like a young horse. He felt fantastic.

“He is going to be lightly raced and I imagine he might have one run, then go for the Champion Chase. Hopefully I will retain the ride on him.”

Harry Skelton and Politologue in full flight
Harry Skelton and Politologue in full flight (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

Though enjoying plenty of time centre stage lately there was a time not so long ago where winners were hard to come by for Skelton, something he feels makes occasions like this all the more special.

He said: “I rode eight winners one season and I thought the whole world was going to end. It is a rough game and a tough game. Paul has always said take your time, be patient.

“We spent a long time at Ditcheat and we learnt a lot from Paul and today I’ve ridden a Grade One winner for my brother and for Paul. All my racing career and everything I’ve put in has been worth it. I’m very lucky to be in the position I am now. You have got to enjoy it.”

The decision to embark on a career over fences with Allmankind is starting to look an inspired one by connections judging by his latest Grade One triumph, although Skelton revealed there was still a question mark as to whether he would truly take to chasing.

He said: “When we went to Wawrick first time out, if you watched him school at home you would have said ‘crikey’ and wouldn’t have been putting your hand up to ride this one. Going into Warwick we were going into the dark. He basically bolted for two miles.

Allmankind initiated a famous Grade One double for Harry Skelton
Allmankind initiated a famous Grade One double for Harry Skelton (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

“He has obviously got a massive engine, but he probably doesn’t have a lot upstairs and that is what makes him good. He will go through a wall for you and he is a hard stayer at the end of two miles as he has got such a big heart he will keep running and that is what you need.”

Allmankind has a way to go to match the exploits of Politologue over fences, but Skelton believes he can, given time, reach the same heights.

He added: “Allmankind is quite hairy at times, but for him to come round here and do that of the back of little experience is very good.

“They are both very strong staying two-milers. Allmankind has got a hell of a lot to do to live up to do what Politologue has done, but he has started his career off well and he is going in the right direction.”

Allmankind powers to Henry VIII success

Allmankind put in an exemplary round of jumping to maintain his unbeaten record over fences in the Planteur At Chapel Stud Henry VIII Novices’ Chase at Sandown.

After making a winning debut over fences at Warwick, having previously finished third on his final start over hurdles on his seasonal return at Cheltenham, the Dan Skelton-trained four-year-old took another step forward by claiming the second Grade One of his career.

Though pressed for the lead down the back straight by eventual third Ga Law, the Tim and Bill Gredley-owned gelding soon moved back into a clear initiative he would maintain to the line.

Impressive Ffos Las scorer Hitman moved off in pursuit of the 2-1 favourite on the approach to the final two fences, but he could not find the gears to go with Allmankind and two and a half lengths separated the pair at the line.

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Skelton said: “It was brilliant. I’m just delighted we ended up going down the chasing route. We were a little bit head-scratching after his debut run of the season at Cheltenham. Perhaps the horse lulled me into a false sense of fitness that day as I thought he was a lot fitter than he was.

“Tim said let’s go chasing and I thought OK, it’s a bit of a brave man’s route. He wasn’t that great the first couple of schooling sessions at home, but ever since Warwick he just thinks these (fences) are brilliant and loves jumping them. He was a little bit out to his left, but we had a chat beforehand to contain that as much as possible.

“It is great watching those horses over the two-mile chase track here. I’m delighted to be on the winner’s roll with him.”

Assessing future plans Skelton earmarked the Grade Two Kingmaker Novices’ Chase at Warwick in February as possible target, ahead of an outing in the Sporting Life Arkle at the Cheltenham Festival, for which he was cut to 10-1 by Sky Bet and 8-1 by William Hill.

He added: “We will look at the spring targets. We will probably go back to Warwick for the Kingmaker, then look at the Arkle then look at Liverpool as well. He is a pleasure to have and has been a remarkable horse for us, a dual Grade One winner.”

Paul Nicholls will consider stepping runner-up Hitman up in trip on his next start, although he has not ruled out taking on the winner again.

He said: “It was a good run. Harry Skelton nicked it from the back of the Pond Fence and five lengths is hard to get back. It was only the fifth run of his career and second over fences and it was very good.

“All we did was stay on up the hill and his inexperience just caught him out down the back and those Railway fences. I wouldn’t be afraid of taking on the winner again with a bit more experience.

“He might get a bit further and he might be ideal for the Scilly Isles and Pendil.

“It was a good run for a young horse.”

Allmankind dazzles on fencing debut at Warwick

Allmankind put in a perfect round of jumping to make a winning debut over fences with a stylish front-running success at Warwick.

Trainer Dan Skelton saw his decision to switch last season’s Triumph Hurdle third – who filled the same spot on his return to action over hurdles at Cheltenham last month – to fences immediately vindicated in the in the Stan Mellor Memorial Novices’ Chase.

Quickly getting into a good rhythm out in front, Allmankind attacked his fences with plenty of zest before cruising home 13 lengths clear of runner-up Zanza, to form the opening leg of a double for Skelton and his brother Harry.

The Alcester handler said of the even-money favourite: “He had schooled OK at home. His technique and commitment was good, but he just got up to the jump and popped it rather than being exuberant.

“I’d done a load of work with him before Cheltenham, but perhaps he wasn’t that fit. I said to Tom Messenger (assistant) when they got down to the start this horse will be keen today as he looked like he was more on it.

“I was a bit undecided whether to run him on the ground, but I spoke to Tim Gredley (co-owner) last night and he said they are there to compete so credit goes to him. I was honestly delighted with him and I couldn’t expect to see better.

“We will go to the Henry VIII next at Sandown. Here and Sandown are both good jumping tests. Let’s just get on with it and see where we are.”

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Owners Gill Duckworth and Pat Dry left the track in good spirits after Accordingtogino (5-1) completed the Skelton brace when responding well to first-time cheekpieces in the Racing TV Profits Returned To Racing Handicap Chase.

Duckworth said: “It was so exciting and I’m absolutely thrilled. We came here with zero expectations. He went to Lingfield 15 days ago and he wasn’t very good at all.

“When Harry put him out in front today we said let’s have our moment of glory in front, but he never stopped.”

Having worked with the likes of Altior and Buveur D’Air during his time as assistant to Nicky Henderson, trainer Toby Lawes celebrated a first winner in his own name after Kannapolis (100-30) struck gold by nine lengths in the Bet At Handicap Hurdle.

The 28-year-old said: “This means such a huge amount to me and the team at home who have done such a fantastic job and have been very patient.

“It’s great for the team and Andrew Wates whose yard we are in and he is a shareholder in this horse as well.

“It’s a great weight off my mind and hopefully we can keep kicking on.”

Nico de Boinville made his fleeting visit to the course a winning one aboard Bothwell Bridge, who went one better than his two bumper efforts with a facile success in the Novices’ Hurdle.

De Boinville said of the Nicky Henderson-trained 30-100 shot: “We wanted to take a bit of a lead to give him some education – the race fell apart and I was left out in front but he jumped for fun.

“He is forward enough though he did take a bit of a blow jumping the last, that’s why I rode him out at the end.”

Flirtatious Girl maintained Kim Bailey’s recent run of good form on her debut in division one of the British EBF Mares’ Standard Open National Hunt Flat Race, which the 2-1 favourite claimed by a length and a half.

Bailey said: “She was very green, but is as tough as old boots. I’m really pleased as they are not the luckiest of owners so it is great to start off with a nice win.

“Something like the Listed bumper at Huntingdon could be next.”

Allmankind ready for chasing bow

High-class hurdler Allmankind kicks off his career over fences in the Stan Mellor Memorial Novices’ Chase at Warwick on Friday.

Formerly trained on the Flat by Michael Bell, the son of Sea The Moon was thoroughly impressive in winning on his debut over obstacles at this venue 12 months ago – before going on to Grade Two and Grade One success at Cheltenham and Chepstow respectively.

He finished only a fortunate third in the Triumph Hurdle at the Cheltenham in March, however – and after he was beaten as a short-priced favourite on his return to action at Prestbury Park last month, connections have decided to go down a different route.

Trainer Dan Skelton said: “We’ve done plenty of jumping at home over fences with him, and he is good. Those erratic horses like him are the ones that do jump, because their brains are thinking.

“He is a Grade One winner, and I don’t want to spend all year getting beaten with him over hurdles – it’s not good for the owners or the whole team, seeing him getting beaten a load of times.

“He was so mature and active as a three and four-year-old and one of the best of his age. The others have caught up a bit, and by going chasing we are hopefully finding some races he can win.

“I had my mind made up to go over fences halfway up the run-in when he ran at Cheltenham the other day, and Tim Gredley (part-owner) said during the first lockdown that he couldn’t wait to go chasing.

“It took a while to persuade the jockey (Harry Skelton), but we are all on the same page now.”

Allmankind is due to face five rivals in the two-mile contest, including Nicky Henderson’s Fred and the Nigel Twiston-Davies-trained Stolen Silver.

Skelton has high hopes for Allmankind on Cheltenham return

Dan Skelton is pleased with Allmankind as his flamboyant prospect prepares to make his seasonal debut in the Masterson Holdings Hurdle at Cheltenham on Saturday.

The Alcester trainer earmarked this contest as a launching pad some time ago for his four-year-old, who was one of the leading juvenile hurdlers last term.

Allmankind won his first three starts, culminating in the Grade One Finale Hurdle at Chepstow and wound up with third place in a dramatic running of the Triumph Hurdle at the Festival in March.

“Allmankind is in good form and Saturday’s contest has been the plan since the start of the season,” said Skelton.

“It’s an ideal race to run in given it is against four-year-olds, so he can take on his age group one last time before he takes on the older horses.

“He has to carry a penalty, but he is a Grade One winner. I am really happy with him at home and he is ready to start.

“He just ran quite flat at Cheltenham in the Triumph Hurdle. I am not saying he would have beaten Goshen in any case, but he just ran very flat in that race.

“There is no point dwelling on the past and we are looking forward to getting him started. It is a new season, with a new start and new objectives.”

Nordano takes on his old adversary Allmankind at Cheltenham
Nordano takes on his old adversary Allmankind at Cheltenham (Bradley Collyer/PA)
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Neil King’s Nordano finished behind Allmankind twice last season, but won a valuable handicap hurdle at Ascot in February and had a pipe-opener on the Flat at Pontefract three weeks ago.

Botox Has, trained by Gary Moore, was second to Allmankind on this course in November but has been absent since winning back at Cheltenham in December.

Fergal O’Brien is expecting a decent show from veteran Perfect Candidate in the Matchbook Betting Exchange Handicap Chase.

The 13-year-old has been a stalwart at O’Brien’s Naunton yard for nearly eight years now and has three victories to his credit on this course.

The 13-year-old Perfect Candidate is ready to make his seasonal debut at Cheltenham
The 13-year-old Perfect Candidate is ready to make his seasonal debut at Cheltenham (Anthony Devlin/PA)

“Perfect Candidate has been a real superstar for the yard, and we are delighted to see him back,” said O’Brien.

“He loves Cheltenham and goes well fresh, so we are hopeful of a good performance.

“We are looking forward to being back racing at Prestbury Park and hopefully we can continue our good start to the season.”

Course specialist Cogry lines up for another local trainer, Nigel Twiston-Daves.

A four-time winner on the track, Cogry is a regular in this race. Successful in 2017, the 11-year-old was second in 2018 and third 12 months ago.

“Cogry loves the track and is a past winner of the race, so we are hopeful. He is a real old favourite in the yard and goes well fresh,” Twiston-Davies said.

“It is great to be back racing at Cheltenham and it is good to go there with plenty of chances this weekend.”

Manofthemountain has also been declared for Wincanton on Sunday, but trainer Emma Lavelle would prefer to run at Cheltenham as long as the ground does not deteriorate.

“Cheltenham is very much the place we want to go. It’s just with the rain that’s forecast on Saturday afternoon, if the ground went very much on the softer side, then we’d look at going to Wincanton instead,” said the Marlborough handler.

“He’s just got better and better – he’s a big, strong horse who is improving all the time.

“I was absolutely delighted with him at Bangor and he had a nice blow after the race and has come on.

“He definitely deserves a step up in class and we’ll see how we go.”

Frodon and Bryony Frost after their victory in the Ryanair Chase at the 2019 Cheltenham Festival
Frodon and Bryony Frost after their victory in the Ryanair Chase at the 2019 Cheltenham Festival (Paul Harding/PA)

Manofthemountain and Perfect Candidate are 1lb and 2lb out of the handicap respectively as the weights are headed by Frodon, who has to give 17lb and upwards to his rivals.

Paul Nicholls’ classy performer was last seen finishing fourth behind Min in the Ryanair Chase which he had won in 2019.