Tag Archive for: harry skelton

Decision to stick with ‘Plan A’ pays off with Molly Ollys Wishes

Molly Ollys Wishes dug deep to grab Grade Two glory in the SBK Mares’ Hurdle at Ascot.

Giving the trainer and jockey team of Dan and Harry Skelton a third winner of the day at the Berkshire venue, the 13-8 favourite proved just too strong for the closing My Sister Sarah in what was an intriguing affair.

Irish recruit Western Victory hared off in front on her British debut for Emma Lavelle, building up a sizeable lead as Skelton on the winner and Paul Townend on My Sister Sarah kept their cool in the belief the pacesetter would eventually stop in front.

Western Victory’s stride began to shorten turning for home and Molly Ollys Wishes quickly closed the gap and grabbed the lead, while Townend was stoking up My Sister Sarah who had raced in last throughout.

While the eventual runner-up found plenty after the last, Skelton had flown and Molly Ollys Wishes prevailed by a length and three-quarters.

Betfair go 14-1 from 20s about her chance in the Close Brothers Mares’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival, which is over two and a half miles rather than this near three-mile trip.

Dan Skelton said: “Really happy with her. I had her entered on Friday in the Winter Millions race, but I said to Dean Pugh, her owner, ‘look, you have a big decision to make here – she is a tap-in at Lingfield or we stick to Plan A’. And this was always Plan A – this was the ideal race for her.

“Dean was keen to stick with Plan A and I was confident, as I always knew we had primed her for this, but at the same time you have some pretty in-form horses against her.

“The way the race worked out was perfect for her, because she was not keen.

“She is one of those horses who have been a slow burner. When we started, she was middle of the road, she got a little bit better and a little bit better and she has taken us all by surprise.

“As she has got older, she has got stronger. We tried her over a fence once at home and it was just a disaster. It took 50 per cent of the ideas off the table immediately, so you could concentrate ore on the hurdling – which is great, as sometimes when you are confronted with a plethora of options, more can go wrong. If you narrow it down a bit, it can be easier.”

Molly Ollys Wishes is a 33-1 shot for the Stayers’ Hurdle at Cheltenham, and Skelton added: “I think the Stayers’ is a bit ambitious.

“The mares’ hurdle, we’ll see how it cuts up. We will see what is in there at each stage. I’ve always thought she would be a good candidate for Aintree and if not, there is always a race at Fairyhouse over Easter that would suit her. She has the talent to go to Cheltenham, which is always nice.

“A treble on the day is wonderful. The horses are running well, thank God.”

Skelton relieved as My Drogo opens chasing account

Relief was the overriding emotion for Dan Skelton after seeing My Drogo get back on the winning trail in the bearrene.com Novices’ Chase at Cheltenham.

Having rounded off an unbeaten hurdling campaign with a Grade One victory at Aintree, the six-year-old was widely considered as one of Britain’s brightest hopes in this season’s novice chasing division.

He was a warm order to make a successful start to his career over fences at Prestbury Park last month, but knuckled on landing, slipped and fell at the second-last.

My Drogo was the 2-9 favourite to bounce back on his return to the Cotswolds – and while he was almost too brave for his own good at a couple of fences, there was no doubting his superiority as he came home with seven lengths in hand over Torn And Frayed under champion jockey Harry Skelton.

“It is a sigh of relief to get him round,” Dan Skelton admitted afterwards.

“He made a couple of what I wouldn’t call mistakes, but brave errors. The two that he didn’t get perfectly, he was a long way off them and he stays committed, which I’m happy about, because you don’t want them changing their mind.

“Harry was happy with him. We’re all relieved it’s over and we’ve got one out of the way.

“He’s hacked up in the end and he’s obviously very good.

“Visually it’s not silky, but it doesn’t have to be – it’s the result that counts.

“I know you’d love to see him being silky and smooth, but that is not in this horse’s nature. He’s a little bit of a fidget and a little bit of a horse on the edge – he’s been like that all his life.”

Dan Skelton was delighted with My Drogo
Dan Skelton was delighted with My Drogo (Mike Egerton/PA)

My Drogo could return to Cheltenham next month before the Festival in March, with Skelton keen to give his charge further experience.

He added: “Every day is a competition to him. He considers this to be a game, rather than something serious. He is going down to fences thinking ‘how far off this can we get’?

“It’s not a concern, but it is something that we’ve got to iron out and I think the way to do that is to get a few runs into him.

“We’re not afraid to run him. We’ll enter for the Dipper back here on New Year’s Day and if we don’t go for that we’ll go somewhere else.

“You wouldn’t dare going three miles and over two you’d have to be super aggressive and that would just further encourage him to take lots of chances, so we’ll stick to two-and-a-half for now.”

Interne De Sivola jumps the final flight at Cheltenham
Interne De Sivola jumps the final flight at Cheltenham (David Davies/PA)

The Nick Williams-trained Interne De Sivola built on the promise of his hurdling debut with a clear-cut victory in the JCB Triumph Trial.

The youngster finished third behind Dan Skelton’s exciting prospect In This World at Warwick last month, form that was boosted by the success of runner-up Graystone at the same venue earlier this week.

Ridden by the trainer’s son Chester, Interne De Sivola had his rivals in trouble a long way from home on his second start and was five and a half lengths clear of 5-2 favourite Yorksea at the line.

“It was a good performance in what was a good race at Warwick and we thought he’d improve as he’d never run on the Flat,” said Williams.

“That was the strongest juvenile race of the season so far at Warwick. Good horses were beaten 30 lengths that day and the Skelton one is very good, obviously.

“He (Interne De Sivola) stays well and has a strong pedigree. He’s a very good prospect.

“We haven’t really got a plan. We said we’d see what happened today, but he’s won very well and it (Triumph Hurdle) is a possibility.”

Editeur Du Gite in full flight at Cheltenham
Editeur Du Gite in full flight at Cheltenham (David Davies/PA)

Editeur Du Gite (3-1 joint-favourite) made it back-to-back course wins in the Simon Claisse Handicap Chase.

The seven-year-old carries the colours of trainer Gary Moore’s 2014 Queen Mother Champion Chase hero Sire De Grugy – and connections are dreaming he too could earn himself a crack at the two-mile chasing crown.

Part-owner Steve Preston said: “It’s quite exhilarating to say the least.

“We weren’t as confident today as the ground was a bit deader and he had 7lb more to carry, but without a doubt we’ve improved again, which is more than you could hope for.

“Hopefully he has still more in him. The last time I spoke to Gary, we were thinking of the Game Spirit at Newbury, so he could go there before we think about bigger, bigger things.

“That (Champion Chase) is possible, but if not there’s the Grand Annual and then the Red Rum at Aintree, which he won last season.”

Monday Musings: Who’d be a handicapper?

I suppose I could mention the Bryony Frost issue and her triumphant return to race riding with a big win in the Tingle Creek on Saturday at Sandown Park, writes Tony Stafford. Certain writers thought that victory was vindication of her situation vis a vis Robbie Dunne and his alleged bullying, swearing and whatever else from last week’s enquiry.

The situation, though, was rather like a jury of 12 men and women true having not agreed a trial verdict on a Friday night then going off to watch together private videos of everything the accused had done throughout his life over the weekend before reconvening on Monday morning. Not exactly the best example of natural justice maybe but, like Hollie and Rachael, Bryony is one of the racing public’s favourites and understandably and rightly so.

Equally, I could refer to Protektorat’s arrogant dismissal of former Gold Cup winner Native River in the Many Clouds Chase at Aintree the same day, and again a woman rider, Bridget Andrews, doing the steering and presenting at the fences of brother-in-law Dan Skelton’s much-improved chaser. He now faces the prospect of challenging the Irish heavyweights in the Gold Cup next March.

You have to love the way Dan never, except in the most unavoidable situations, like multiple runners at different tracks, goes outside the family. Brother and Bridget’s husband Harry might not win the title again this year – with Brian Hughes taking it so seriously he is operating twice as fast as last season’s champion. He is however playing the sensible card and helping ensure his own longevity in the saddle by keeping it in the family.

I also loved the effort of the grey mare and proud mum of a two-year-old – “I was courted by a Derby winner don’t you know!”, says Snow Leopardess as she goes on the gallops every day. “I would show you a picture but I don’t have one on me. He’s a handsome chap, by Sir Percy, and it’s his birthday soon”.

I believe the youngster is rising three but could be corrected on that. The bold-jumping grey mare conceived and foaled during the 26 months between her successful trip over to France from Charlie Longsdon’s stable in 2017 and first run back at Newbury in late 2019.

On Saturday at Aintree she treated the Grand National fences with respect but total efficiency. It would have been an awful shame if the front-running performance clear of the field for much of the three miles and two furlongs would have resulted in defeat by a nose rather than victory by that margin over Hill Sixteen.

Lots to talk about, then, but instead I’m going to harp on about the sitting duck syndrome, brought upon domestic owners and trainers by the people whose mandate is to make handicap races a level playing field.

These well-paid officials continually err in several regards. Number one, letting Irish trainers take the mickey. Take the case of a horse who had previously raced in seven maiden and novice races and a single handicap before his owner-trainer, Ronan McNally, a notorious “touch” merchant, lined him up, cherry picking a Huntingdon 0-110 yesterday against ten unsuspecting locals.

The horse, a six-year-old, to tabulate his entire Rules career, had been successively 17th of 20 beaten 53 lengths (25/1); 10th of 20 beaten 64 lengths (50/1); 8th of 15 beaten 74 lengths (150/1); 11th of 20 beaten 63 lengths (200/1); 11th of 13, beaten 19 lengths (200/1); 16th of 18, beaten 33 lengths (50/1); and 10th of 13, beaten 19 lengths (150/1).

Just to make the job look right he was sixth of 20 in his first handicap hurdle at Down Royal, starting at 8/1. You could say that the money was down and he didn’t have a great run but if it was half down then, they went the whole hog on Vee Dancer yesterday.

Choosing a conditional jockeys’ handicap hurdle and therefore able to book leading claiming rider Kevin Brogan, such was the weight of money he started an improbable 2 to 1 on. It would not be accurate to say he was always going to win as he was on and off the bridle all the way, but he won comfortably by three lengths in the end.

My complaint is that horses like that coming from another racing authority should not be allowed to run in any handicap without achieving a minimum placing: getting at least in the first four let’s say. Watch out for another three or four wins in rapid fire fashion.

He had run off 90 in that Down Royal race and our hurdles handicapper probably thought he was safe letting in him on 10lb more, but these horses have stones not pounds in hand once the hand-brake is let off.

One of the cleverest UK trainers is undoubtedly Gary Moore and I think he has even outsmarted anything he’s done previously in handicaps with his training of ex-French six-year-old Naturally High. This gelding is not only the same age as Vee Dancer but was running in a Sandown handicap hurdle on Saturday off the identical mark of 100.

He duly bolted in, dismantling some progressive young hurdlers having shot the pre-race market to pieces too. He still started odds against but when you examine his life story and the part the UK handicappers played in it, I’m sure you will see my amazement is justified.

Runner-up at Sandown was another ex-Frenchman, the Roger Teal-trained Kamaxos who was conceding him 15lb. His French Flat race mark had been 32, which equates to 70, meaning a pretty routine 45lb difference.

I mentioned Naturally High had also been trained in France, and his last four runs there in 2018 had been two victories in April in a Chantilly conditions event and a Longchamp Listed. He went up in class for his next run but finished 15th of 16 as a 16/1 shot in the Prix Du Jockey Club (French Derby), starting at much shorter odds than three of the four Aidan O’Brien candidates.

After his last run, fifth of six in a Group 2, he was allotted a mark of 47, which he still holds and which translates to 103. That makes him 33lb superior to Kamaxos from whom he was receiving 15lb on Saturday. He arrived at 100 having strolled home in his first handicap at Lingfield running off 88.

How that 88 mark was arrived at beggars belief. Normally horses are required to complete the course three times to be allotted a mark, but first time Naturally High unseated Jamie Moore before running twice more a long way out of the money. He was allowed in on that sketchy evidence but then having won the first time off a gift rating, allowing him in again off 100 was naïve in the extreme. Basically he started 15lb lower over jumps than the French figure when it should be nearer 45 or 50lb the other way!

I’ve no gripe at all with Gary Moore who had a big job to bring back to life a horse that had been bought for €120,000 at the end of 2018. Those two big wins might have started to get certain people somewhere near level with that investment because there is no doubt the money has been well and truly down both times.

It’s hard to see what can stop the hat-trick, save some overdue retaliation by the two-mile hurdles handicapper. Does he have the bottle or will he treat Naturally High (France) and (UK) as two entirely different horses?

*

I’m feeling a little bereft with the breeding stock sales’ conclusion last week and over the weekend in France. High-class racehorses and well-bred mares have rarely been in such demand and for a while on Tuesday any female with the requisite number of limbs and the ability to conceive was almost guaranteed to go to at least six figures.

I do not intend identifying the young lady who relates to this little tale save to say her putative trips to the sales have been mentioned here recently. She had her eye on a Shadwell filly – there were 90 in the catalogue last week – in Wednesday’s sale and hoped to get it for a song as it hadn’t run.

I had suggested going on Thursday when all the big buyers had gone home and she could pick up something very cheaply but at the same time be prepared for its being modest enough. She persisted and when I checked that evening whether she had any luck, she said, “No, it went for 70 grand!”

Now I know people in her situation that might have claimed to have been the under-bidder, like the Irish trainer who made very public that distinction in regard to the sale of triple Champion Hurdle winner Istabraq.

I was changing planes one day in the US coming back from Keeneland sales when Timmy Hyde caught up with me and said: “You were the under-bidder for Istabraq weren’t you? I know you were, I was standing right behind you.

“Well that fe..ing D…. M…..is telling everyone he was!” Saudi Arabia’s loss was Ireland’s gain, although when I asked how much short my 36k bid had been, Timmy said: “J P told me to go to 100 grand!”

- TS

Blaklion jumps rivals into submission at Haydock

Blaklion rolled back the years with a tremendous front-running display in the Jewson Altrincham Veterans’ Handicap Chase at Haydock.

The 12-year-old, who won the RSA Chase at the 2016 Cheltenham Festival, had not managed to get his head in front since winning the Becher Chase over Aintree’s Grand National fences almost four years ago.

Results have been largely disappointing since being snapped up by owner Darren Yates in 2019 and joining Dan Skelton, although he did manage to finish sixth in the Grand National itself last spring.

With a comeback run at Bangor three weeks ago blowing away any cobwebs, Blaklion was a 3-1 shot for his latest assignment and jumped impeccably in front under champion jockey Harry Skelton.

Another name familiar to jumps fans, the Venetia Williams-trained Aso, looked a big danger after jumping the final fence, but the leader dug deep and had almost four lengths in hand at the line.

Harry Skelton said: “That was great today. The horse is a credit to himself really and for older horses to have the opportunity to run in races like this is fantastic.

“He gave me a great ride and the horse deserves it. At home he shows all that old enthusiasm and it’s great for Darren and Annaley (owner’s wife) – they put a lot in and they’ve had a fantastic day.

“It’s just brilliant and what National Hunt racing is all about.”

A Different Kind (7-4) made it four from four since joining Donald McCain in the preceding Oakmere Homes “Introductory” Hurdle.

Runner-up on his sole start in the Irish point-to-point field, the four-year-old had since won two bumpers and a novice hurdle at Sedgefield.

The son of Doyen was not even favourite to beat two rivals on Merseyside, but knuckled down for Brian Hughes to give weight and a one-length beating to 8-11 shot Green Book.

“He has just done everything we wanted him to do. Maybe he didn’t love the ground but he is just good at his job,” said McCain.

“We will have a look at the Rossington Main (at Haydock in January). We can certainly have a look, as he has not been beaten yet. There is no reason why we can’t consider races like that, we’ll just see what the ground is in the meantime.

“It was a difficult sort of race to ride today – we didn’t quite know what to do for the best on what was bad ground. They had previously run two three-mile hurdle races on it, so Brian kept him out of trouble and he’s picked up and done really well.”

Onemorefortheroad sparks Newbury celebrations for King

Onemorefortheroad had plenty of bookmakers raising their glasses after the Ladbrokes Committed to Safer Gambling Intermediate Hurdle, as the 8-1 outsider of four scooted to a two-and-a-half-length success at Newbury.

With odds-on top-weight Soaring Glory failing to fire in the four-runner Listed contest, the Neil King-trained six-year-old took advantage of a 16lb pull in the weights to follow up his recent all-the-way win at Huntingdon in similar fashion.

King said: “I am just really pleased. We have always thought the world of him.

“He won his bumper first time out last year and last season my horses were badly out of form and when I ran him over hurdles, I was so disappointed he was beaten the first twice as I knew the horse was better than that. I gave him a break and he came back and won his races.

Jack Quinlan after ridding Onemorefortheroad
Jack Quinlan after ridding Onemorefortheroad (Steven Paston/PA)

“His homework was so good. He was the only horse who could go with Lil Rockerfeller when we had him and he has done nothing wrong this season. We started him off in a novice because he wasn’t the bravest. We got him in a novice at Stratford and Bryony (Frost) gave him a great ride there, and at Huntingdon we had to do the donkey-work again. We didn’t want to make the running.

“He will be a better horse in a faster-run race when we can come from behind with him.

“If the ground stays dry and that, to a degree, is important to him, I would like to run in the big handicap at Ascot just before Christmas – the Betfair two-miler – and I think more of a stamina test will help him again. You wouldn’t want traditional winter ground. But we’ve had three wet winters, and this is a dry one, so I hope for him that the ball keeps rolling.

“The way the owners party afterwards, he could not be a better-named horse!”

Elle Est Belle (left) took Listed honours
Elle Est Belle (left) took Listed honours (Steven Paston/PA)

Elle Est Belle recouped losses for an odds-on defeat on her jumping debut to take the Listed honours in the Ladbrokes Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle.

Dan Skelton’s five-year-old was only third over this extended two miles that day behind Nina The Terrier and Ahorsewithnoname and turned the tables on the pair.

Nina The Terrier fell at the final flight when holding every chance and Ahorsewithnoname was still just in front after taking it up after the third last, but Elle Est Belle (2-1) looked to be going best and went on to score by eight and a half lengths in the hands of Harry Skelton.

Skelton said: “She needed the run the first day and she really shocked me, because last year she was a really buzzy horse. Last year, you were almost like ‘slow down, there’s no rush’, and then actually she has come back in and she has appreciated that we have dropped her in in her races and she was a bit too relaxed in her early training.

“She needed the run and there is no shame in that. She has improved and she was going away at the line. I was quite optimistic she would turn it around and that we would improve an awful lot.

“She will get two and a half miles, but there is no need to press, press, press. There is no immediate plan. I think we will train her towards the Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham, but that will be a bit ground dependent, but I wouldn’t want her to be going there on quicker ground.”

Kapcorse initiated a Nicholls double
Kapcorse initiated a Nicholls double (Steven Paston/PA)

Sir Peter O’Sullevan was the doyen of commentators and it was fitting to see his silks again carried to victory in the race named in his honour – the Sir Peter O’Sullevan Memorial Handicap Steeple Chase – by Kapcorse (13-2).

The black silks with yellow crossbelts, carried famously by the likes of Attivo, were bequeathed to great friend JP McManus upon O’Sullevan’s death in 2015 and three sported the colours on this occasion, with Kapcorse, the mount of Harry Cobden, prevailing by five and a half lengths.

The strapping son of Kapgarde has had just three starts since taking this race in 2018, having suffered minor niggling problems.

With Nicholls absent due to illness, assistant trainer Harry Derham, said: “He has not been a very easy horse to train, hence the massive absence in his career.

“On his day, he is a very talented horse. When he is right, he is very good, but he is just not easy to train. He has had little problems, but to be fair, Mr McManus has been very patient with him and you can see today why you would bother to be patient.

“Where we will go next, I don’t know. This was the aim, because it was Sir Peter O’Sullevan’s race. AP McCoy rode him in work last Tuesday and got off him and said ‘he’ll win next week’, so he obviously knows a good horse when he sees one!

“To be fair, after that, we did have confidence because every day with him, you hope things go right, because, as you can see, he is enormous and it has just taken him a while to get him right, but he is a very talented horse. Today was the plan, so we will make another one now.”

Il Ridoto (4-1 co-favourite) gave the Nicholls yard and Cobden a double on the car in the concluding Watch Racing Free Online at Ladbrokes Handicap Chase.

Earlofthecotswolds (right) was a winner for Sam Twiston-Davies
Earlofthecotswolds (right) was a winner for Sam Twiston-Davies (Steven Paston/PA)

Earlofthecotswolds had capitalised on a lenient mark at Wetherby a fortnight ago and a 7lb rise failed to halt his progress, as the Nigel Twiston-Davies-trained seven-year-old followed up in the Get Your Ladbrokes £1 Free Bet Today Handicap Hurdle in the hands of his son, Sam Twiston-Davies.

The winning trainer said: “It is smashing. We didn’t think we’d win because the ground had gone a bit soft, but he did it nicely.

“The ground was a little bit of a worry. He is a handicapper and that is what we are looking at with him. He is no better than that and he can always go over fences again one day.

“There is nothing else for him at present. Another handicap after Christmas is probably what we are looking at.”

Elle Est Belle lands Listed honours

Elle Est Belle recouped losses for an odds-on defeat on her jumping debut to take the Listed honours in the Ladbrokes Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle at Newbury.

Dan Skelton’s five-year-old was only third over this extended two miles that day behind Nina The Terrier and Ahorsewithnoname and turned the tables on the pair.

Nina The Terrier fell at the final flight when holding every chance and Ahorsewithnoname was still just in front after taking it up after the third last, but Elle Est Belle (2-1) looked to be going best.

With Nina The Terrier out, Elle Est Belle powered past the leader to score by eight and a half lengths in the hands of Harry Skelton.

Skelton said: “She needed the run the first day and she really shocked me, because last year she was a really buzzy horse. Last year, you were almost like ‘slow down, there’s no rush’, and then actually she has come back in and she has appreciated that we have dropped her in in her races and she was a bit too relaxed in her early training.

“She needed the run and there is no shame in that. She has improved and she was going away at the line. I was quite optimistic she would turn it around and that we would improve an awful lot.

“She will get two and a half miles, but there is no need to press, press, press. There is no immediate plan. I think we will train her towards the Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle, but that will be a bit ground dependent, but I wouldn’t want her to be going there on quicker ground.”

Faivoir proves famous winner for Dan Skelton

Dan Skelton celebrated his 1,000th success as a trainer as Faivoir triumphed in the Windsor Horse Rangers Novices’ Limited Handicap Chase at Ascot.

Skelton, who is famously the son of Olympic gold medal-winner showjumper Nick and brother to champion jockey Harry, brought up the landmark in less than 10 years, having only set up as a trainer in 2013.

The Alcester-based handler spent nine years learning his trade with multiple champion Paul Nicholls before striking out on his own – and Skelton remembered his former boss notching the same milestone back in 2004.

He said: “It’s magic. I remember when I worked for Paul and he had his 1,000th winner, it was a bumper I think, at Folkestone. I texted him ‘well done boss’ and he said ‘don’t worry about this thousand, worry about the next thousand’ and I’m thinking the same thing.”

Skelton’s first headline victory came via Willow’s Saviour in the 2013 Ladbroke Hurdle at Ascot and the trainer reflected on that as a real starting point, but admitted he had not felt the same kind of urgency as when he was chasing 200 winners for the campaign in 2018-19.

He said: “We’ve had some good successes here, our first big success was here with Willow’s Saviour and that’s a day we’ll all never forget.

“A thousand is a big number, (but) I was more determined and aggressive, and desperate if you like, to get 200 in that season three years ago. That was my big ambition and that was a lot more pressure than a thousand.”

Clifford Baker, Paul Nicholls and Dan Skelton (left to right) with Gold Cup winner Denman
Clifford Baker, Paul Nicholls and Dan Skelton (left to right) with Gold Cup winner Denman (Barry Batchelor/PA)

Skelton recorded a total of 205 wins during that campaign, becoming just the second trainer after Martin Pipe to record a double century.

While his former mentor not yet achieved that feat – with his best total being 176 last term – Skelton is under no illusions as to the task in trying to wrestle away the trainers’ title from Nicholls.

He added: “You’ve got to keep trying. I think Paul’s a nap (for the title), he’s got those horses at the top end and we’re still creating those. I still think he’s the one for the trainers’ title. If we get past Christmas and there’s not much in it or we get past Cheltenham and there’s not much in it, it could get a bit tight, but I’m not thinking about it at the moment.”

Harry Skelton is stable jockey at the brothers’ Warwickshire yard and had his own 1,000 winner last month.

He was aboard Faivoir at Ascot and paid tribute to his sibling’s dedication and leadership, as well as his forward-planning.

He said: “Dan’s a great leader and he’s got a good team behind him. We all work together, but ultimately he’s the one who trains them and this is a great testament to him. You have to have the dedication and drive and that’s what he’s got.

“He’s done so well with so many (horses) that it’s hard to just put your finger on one. It’s obvious for everyone to see that he can pick a race from a long way out, plan it and pull it off.

Faivoir himself was registering his second win in three starts so far this term, seeing off favourite Torn And Frayed by three-quarters of a length.

Dan Skelton added: “He’s a bit of a monkey, if you ran him left-handed and there was a horse running right he’d probably follow.

“He’s one of those horse, he doesn’t win by too far, the handicapper doesn’t ever fully catch up with him because of that because he’s always holding a fiver up his sleeve.

“He’s just a little winning machine, he’s easy to train.”

Monday Musings: Skeltonham

The 2021-22 jumps season – in a sort of foreplay since the end of April – began on Friday with three days’ intense action at Cheltenham, writes Tony Stafford.

The top five protagonists for the jump trainers’ championship, always supposing that Messrs Mullins, Elliott and De Bromhead do not intrude on a private domestic issue, have positioned themselves nicely for imminent take-off.
At this stage Fergal O’Brien leads the way with 72 wins and £622,548. Paul Nicholls is second on £561,628 from 60 winners.

Dan Skelton, boosted by the weekend, is on £531,752 from a modest 39 wins to date; Donald McCain has £466,295 from 65 and Nicky Henderson, well up to scratch with 50 wins, is lagging a little with £397,633 in prizes.

A couple of seasons ago, Dan and Harry Skelton, emboldened by the lavish support of their father Nick, Olympic show jumping gold medallist and icon of his primary sport for the best part of half a century, would have been the numerical summer pacesetters in the title race.

The trio knew that having a base in Warwickshire worthy of housing the best of bloodstock, would need a trigger to attract owners in a sport where they were accustomed to turning to Nicky Henderson or Paul Nicholls if they wanted their horses trained in the UK. The Skeltons needed numbers and the summer, with the best horses out at grass, was the time to put them on the board.

Even some of those two perennial champions’ owners had already gravitated to the better prizemoney and overwhelming superiority, talent- and numerical-wise of Willie Mullins and Gordon Elliott over in Ireland. It appears that the latter’s gauche blunder in being seen grinning and brandishing his phone to the camera astride a fallen horse on his gallops has been forgiven if not forgotten. Memories are long – practicalities are instantaneous.

The Skelton team has now clearly made it to the big league as their principal five challengers over the weekend emphasised. Meanwhile the mid-summer void has been comfortably filled by Fergal O’Brien, formerly assistant to Nigel Twiston-Davies and more recently a tenant of his.

The building of a new yard a few miles away enabled the breakaway from Twiston-Davies and was the catalyst for a major step forward last season when he broke 100 winners for the first time.

After two 60’s in a row, the next two campaigns realised 49 and 63 before 104 at 18% and £796k prizemoney in 2020-21.
Such has been the forward momentum that as we enter winter, O’Brien leads both winner and money categories. That reflects a 60k cushion, but Nicholls, Skelton and Henderson all have more obvious candidates for the very big pots which always define the season’s champions.

Fergal’s stable strength has been nicely augmented by the addition of around 60 horses that the BHA’s favoured barrister, Graeme McPherson QC, has bequeathed (not exactly, but you know what I mean!) to them. McPherson was more the money man than the day-to-day trainer, and graceful withdrawal from the licensee position in favour of giving it official satellite yard status is bound to have beneficial results.

Already several former McPherson horses have shown improved form since the merger and if Fergal intends maintaining his fast pace – 11 wins in the last fortnight – he needs the extra ammunition.

He stepped in with the Listed bumper winner Bonttay on the Saturday of the meeting and as she and stable-companion Leading Theatre led a big field up the hill you could imagine both being high-class jumpers further down the line, an opinion the trainer upheld with a snatched comment: “two lovely fillies” as he walked by. The stable seems to have a bigger proportion of fillies than any of their main rivals, but that merely confirms assistant and partner Sally Randell’s assertion that “they are cheaper to buy”.

Success attracts owners, as the Skeltons illustrate, and now new owners are flocking to the softly spoken Fergal. They had a new owner with them at the sale after racing on Friday and he came away with lot 1, Poetic Music, a debut winner of a Market Rasen bumper for John Butler, at £60,000. “She was our number one at the sale too. I’m delighted we got her”, Sally said.

Two-horse races rarely capture the attention of the racegoer, but Friday’s two-and-a-half mile novice chase in which fencing newcomer My Drogo, a brilliant unbeaten hurdler last winter for Dan Skelton, was meeting Henry de Bromhead’s four-time chase winner Gin On Lime.

The younger Gin On Lime, a mare, had penalties which should have ensured My Drogo’s favouritism and so it proved, the home runner 4-9 with 7-4 against Gin On Lime.

Then at the second-last fence, when Skelton was manoeuvring his mount to challenge on the stands side, he hit the fence hard and could not maintain the partnership. Meanwhile on the inside, Gin On Lime also blundered but as she started to sink to the floor Rachael Blackmore did a passable impression of all those rodeo tricks she must have seen in cowboy films and simply stayed glued to the saddle.

The mare recovered her equilibrium with Blackmore soon back in charge and they set off to the final obstacle which Gin On Line crossed with no further problems. Blackmore had been the darling of the last spectator-limited Cheltenham Festival and here, with the aid of her main supporter De Bromhead, was revealing a new sphere of excellence.

If day one was a major setback for the brothers Skelton, on Saturday the wheel of fortune turned with another spectacular run by Third Time Lucki, the first domestic candidate for the Arkle Chase and a welcome one with all that talent waiting to reveal itself on the other side of the Irish Sea.

Maybe it was a job only half done, but two exaggerated celebrations of Harry Skelton as he crossed the line in front twice in succession yesterday showed how much it all means to win at the home of steeplechasing. First he was in splendid isolation on the always-talented Nube Negra in the Schloer Chase and then the long-time absentee West Cork got the better of Adagio and No Ordinary Joe after a battle up the hill in a high-standard Greatwood Hurdle.

Winning big handicap hurdles with horses after a layoff has been part of the Dan Skelton DNA for some time and West Cork was a prime candidate for such a project. Absent since his second in the Dovecote Hurdle in February last year behind Highway One O Two, he had been dropped 5lb for that Grade 2 second place from the 139 he had earned by his easy defeat of a Nicky Henderson 1/3 shot at Huntingdon.

That generosity by the handicapper was the final piece in the puzzle for the stable whereas top-weight Adagio, only a four-year-old, had been assessed to the hilt on his form of last winter. The third horse No Ordinary Joe pulled hard from the outset yet was still there with a big shout starting up the hill. If Nicky can get this unexposed type to settle better there is no limit to the potential of J P McManus’ gelding.

Nube Negra’s victory, emphatically pegging back one previous Queen Mother Chase winner in Politologue and ending the hitherto unbeaten course record of Put The Kettle On, the reigning champion but one who was never going yesterday, was deeply impressive.

It certainly was not lost on the bookmakers, who promoted him to near the top of this season’s market on the two-mile championship, nor on the younger Skelton, who not satisfied merely with standing in the saddle and pointing to the crowd as they crossed the line, then sated his elation with a rapid-fire first pump. He might find it harder to peg back Brian Hughes this winter, but as he says, he has some great horses to ride.

Some jockeys win a championship and simply want more. Harry Skelton will take another one if it comes, but he’s not going to do the running around riding out and touting for rides on other people’s horses. Why would he with animals of the ability of those Cheltenham mounts?
- TS

West Cork just great in Greatwood on day to remember for Team Skelton

West Cork shrugged off a 631-day absence to fend off top-weight Adagio and land the Unibet Greatwood Hurdle at Cheltenham.

Trained by Dan Skelton and ridden by his champion jockey brother Harry, West Cork had to dig deep in the Grade Three feature – but the 11-1 winner had enough in hand to take the £56,270 first prize.

No Ordinary Joe pulled his way to the front going past the winning post for the first time and he was still there as the field turned for home, although there appeared to be plenty in behind with their races still to run.

West Cork was one of those travelling well and when Skelton asked him he moved up to take the lead jumping the last before setting sail for home.

However, Adagio was just hitting top gear under his welter burden of 11st 12lb and he made a fight of it, challenging between West Cork and the game No Ordinary Joe, but West Cork just held on.

The Skeltons were celebrating a second high-profile winner on the day after Nube Negra lifted the Shloer Chase.

But the brothers had suffered some notable reverses with Protektorat narrowly beaten in Saturday’s Paddy Power Gold Cup and leading chase hope My Drogo suffering a high-profile departure in a two-horse novice chase on Friday.

Skelton lost his whip on the way to victory, but still saluted the crowd as he passed the post.

He said: “At the last I gave him one smack and he gave the last a foot, I went to just pick it (whip) up and it caught the back of my knee, but he was always holding on. His ears were pricked and I knew I had a lot left in the tank.

“He’d been working very well at home, but I’m delighted. What a training performance.

“I’m a lucky boy to be riding for a fantastic team, led by a great leader in my brother.”

A jubilant Dan Skelton said: “That has to be my best ever hour on a racecourse.

“We only decided to bring this lad two or three weeks ago when we decided Nube Negra was running and we had nothing for the Greatwood.

“It was Harry who suggested this lad. He did a piece of work two weeks ago with Protektorat and then he did one last week with Nube Negra which was obviously a lot above 134. It was probably a hint running in a handicap after working with those two.

“I’m delighted for Mike Newbould. He’d been in racing 40 years and hadn’t had a Cheltenham winner, now he’s had two big ones at the November meeting and that is what it is all about, dreams.

“It’s just brilliant, that was one of the biggest thrills I’ve had on a racecourse, especially after Nube. You think you are due a come down – to stay up there an extra half an hour is magic.

“We’ll worry about what’s next when it comes to it. I’m just delighted.”

Skelton hoping to follow Shan Blue route with Ashtown Lad

Champion jockey Harry Skelton wasted no time adding to his 1,000 winners as he doubled up on his next two rides at Wetherby – courtesy of Ashtown Lad and Unexpected Party.

Skelton reached his four-figure career milestone at Stratford on Thursday, and projected then that he would be getting started on his second thousand as soon as possible.

True to his word, less than 24 hours later, he struck first in division one of the bet365 Novices’ Handicap Hurdle and then in the bet365 Novices’ Chase, both for his brother Dan.

Ashtown Lad was following the example of the yard’s subsequent Grade One winner Shan Blue, who had won the same race last year.

In the absence of the highly-regarded Ahoy Senor, the field was reduced to four – and Skelton had the 6-4 winner in front and jumping well throughout.

Ashtown Lad was always moving more fluently at and between the fences than odds-on favourite and eventual third Barbados Buck’s, on the way to a decisive near five-length success from Buzz De Turcoing.

The winning trainer is already plotting future targets – with Kempton’s Kauto Star Novices’ Chase, also won by Shan Blue last season, perhaps on the agenda.

“He jumped lovely – the more jumps there are and the further he can go, the better,” he said.

“You can see why I waited until he was seven to go chasing – he needed a lot of time to get it all together. Marathon trips will be perfect for him next year.

“We always knew that he would be a three-mile chaser, and we’re delighted with him. That experience will do him the world of good – that was the first time he’s jumped fences on grass.

Unexpected Party and Harry Skelton won division one of the bet365 Novices’ Handicap Hurdle at Wetherby
Unexpected Party and Harry Skelton won division one of the bet365 Novices’ Handicap Hurdle at Wetherby (Zac Goodwin/PA)

“I was always half in my mind thinking of the Shan Blue route. Me, Harry and (owner) Darren (Yates) had half made that plan, and I don’t see any real reason to back out at the moment.”

Unexpected Party also won in the style of a promising horse as he justified favouritism at 11-8, on just his third career start.

Skelton has a high opinion of the six-year-old grey, but explained he has not been easy to train.

“He’s a horse that’s always shown ability – it’s very frustrating that it’s taken as long as it has,” he said.

“He was a very fragile horse when he was younger.

“At Bangor (first time out last month), he must have been as fit as I was – because I thought he’d run all right, and he clearly blew up!

“The step up in trip is a big help. I think the race has fallen apart…there’s only two horses have gone away from the field, turning in. But you can’t do more than what he’s done.

“Two years ago, when he was a store horse, he looked like he might be really handy. But things haven’t quite gone his way (since) – maybe that’s the start of something more.”

The Cash Out At bet365 Handicap Chase was one of two Listed features on day one of the track’s Charlie Hall meeting, with Good Boy Bobby a determined winner under Daryl Jacob for trainer Nigel Twiston-Davies.

Wearing the all-green silks of Jacob’s retained owners Simon Munir and Isaac Souede, Good Boy Bobby was returning to winning form after seven efforts over fences and hurdles which have yielded a string of placings since his last success 12 months ago.

The eight-year-old was prominent throughout, as he often is, and saw off his rivals one by one to win by a length and a half as the 5-2 favourite, from the staying-on Cracking Destiny.

Jacob said: “He was very good today – Nigel and his team have done a great job with him  over the summer.

“Since he’s come back in, he’s been big and bold and fresh.

“I suppose he disappointed us an awful lot last year – but it’s nice that he’s come out and won a really nice competitive pot like that.

Good Boy Bobby and Daryl Jacob lead the way winning in the Cash Out At bet365 Handicap Chase at Wetherby
Good Boy Bobby and Daryl Jacob lead the way winning in the Cash Out At bet365 Handicap Chase at Wetherby (Zac Goodwin/PA)

“Last year, I thought his second behind Master Tommytucker (at Haydock) would lead on to a really good year – but he lost his form and confidence a bit.”

Harbour Lake made a winning debut in the closing bet365 Novices’ Hurdle, scoring in the famous colours of the late Trevor Hemmings.

Alan King’s five-year-old is just the second horse to win in the hugely successful yellow, green and white, since Hemmings died earlier this month.

Harbour Lake belied his 9-1 starting price with a stylish performance under Tom Cannon to prevail by almost five lengths from Guardino, and racing manager Mick Meagher was impressed.

He said: “We thought he was a nice horse last year. But he had a little setback, and we ended up never running him after being bought for point-to-pointing.

“Kingy’s liked him from day one. If we’d finished in the first four or five today we’d have been happy – but he’s beaten the right three, up there in the betting that finished behind him.”

Harry Skelton reaches 1,000-winner milestone

Harry Skelton became the latest jockey to ride 1,000 career winners when Dorisa Queen landed the first division of the Wildix Unified Communications Handicap Hurdle at Stratford.

Skelton, who has formed a formidable partnership with his trainer brother Dan, enjoyed one of his more straightforward successes on the 3-1 favourite.

The current National Hunt champion jockey, having prevailed in a tussle with Brian Hughes last season, Skelton still has some way to go to catch Sir Anthony McCoy, who is the all-time record-breaker on 4,348 winners. But at only 32 years old, Skelton has his eyes on moving some way up the list.

He won the Irish Grand National on Bob Buckler’s Niche Market back in 2009 – and although his career then appeared to be stalling until his brother took out a licence, the winners have not stopped flowing since.

“It’s nice to do it at Stratford – it’s our local course, and we’ve had a lot of winners here,” Skelton told Racing TV.

“Obviously my brother Dan got my career back on track, and without him this would never have happened. I’m very grateful to all the team at home who work endless hours and never grumble. A lot of winners are all down to them, and I’m very grateful to be in this position.

“I’ve had 995 in the UK, three in France and two in Ireland. In a few days, I’ll hopefully be celebrating 1,000 British winners!

“It’s a great honour to ride 1,000 – and I’m still only 32, so I worked out if I can ride 125 for the next eight years I can hit 2,000. So that is the next goal.”

As for career highlights, he said: “I remember my first winner as clear as day, Temper Lad for Jimmy Frost at Exeter (2007) in an amateur race – I’ve come a fair way since then.

“To pick one or two, our first (Cheltenham) Festival winner was very special (Superb Story, County Hurdle 2016), and Ch’tibello (County Hurdle 2019) was very special – but I’ve been very lucky and ridden a lot of nice horses.

“I love my job, I love being in the yard every day, and to pick one out is very hard to do.”

Allmankind on top at Aintree

Allmankind made almost all to defy top weight in the Jewson Monet’s Garden Old Roan Limited Handicap Chase at Aintree.

A Grade One winner over hurdles as a juvenile and a top-level scorer too as a novice chaser last term, a mark of 160 ensured Allmankind shouldered the steadier of 11st 10lb in this Grade Two.

Trainer Dan Skelton had given him a prep run over hurdles at Chepstow this month – and while he could finish only third as favourite on that occasion, he made no mistake back over the bigger obstacles.

A noted front-runner, Harry Skelton’s mount was swiftly into stride, with Killer Clown and Itchy Feet trying to make their presence felt in the early exchanges as Allmankind set a decent pace.

He built up a couple of lengths lead at one point, but at the top of the straight there were really only three in contention – with Midnight Shadow travelling well in the hands of Ryan Mania.

A mistake from Allmankind three fences out briefly handed the initiative to Midnight Shadow, but the 9-4 favourite took the last obstacle much better to grab back the lead – and he kept finding for pressure all the way to the line.

Itchy Feet, who made a couple of errors in his fencing, finished with real purpose but was beaten a length at the line – with the same distance back to Midnight Shadow in third.

Paddy Power make Allmankind a 10-1 from 20s for the Ryanair Chase at the Cheltenham Festival, while he is 20s from 33-1 for the Queen Mother Champion Chase.

The winning handler said: “He’s magic. Everything went well the whole pre-season, and I knew I had to go to Chepstow over hurdles to get a run into him, because I was saying the whole way along that he can’t win here unless he gets a run in – so it was so important that he got that run in over hurdles.

“There’s not many horses that you can switch hurdles to fences and back and know that you’re going to get that consistency with – but he breaks a lot of rules, this horse.

“He’s only five years old and he’s just won a handicap off 160 – it’s big, and I’m very proud of the horse, forget all the rest. He doesn’t know how to let himself down or anyone around, and he’s just an absolute credit to the game.

“He wants to win, and it’s just a great attitude to have – some are born with it, and some aren’t. To have that desire, and ability to match, is unusual – and that’s why he’s top-class. He’s just a fantastic horse to have anything to do with.”

Skelton has a long-term plan to return to Aintree in the spring. His route to the Melling Chase has yet to be determined – although it will be limited.

He added: “We’ll forget future plans for now – this was his big day, and he’s only a five-year-old. There won’t be any big plans, and we’ll just look after him. Ultimately he’ll come back here for the Melling Chase, and he’ll get one run between now and then.

“I’m not going to over-race him – let’s not empty the well, and leave something there for when he’s seven, eight and nine. If you over-race him this year, you’re going to inevitably come to the end of your journey with him – and I don’t want that.

“Ultimately next year I think he’ll race over three miles, and I said last year that Cheltenham wasn’t really his track. He might not even run this side of Christmas, but we’re all very proud of him, and I can’t tell you how much I love him.”

Itchy Feet pleased trainer Olly Murphy in defeat
Itchy Feet pleased trainer Olly Murphy in defeat (Steven Paston/PA)

Itchy Feet was third in the race 12 months ago, and went one place better this year – a performance which pleased his trainer Olly Murphy.

He said: “He ran a cracker. He’s a horse that I think is going to be going up in trip before too long – and I thought on the whole he jumped a lot better in what looked a warm renewal, so it’s a good starting point.

“He’s a good horse and he just needs everything to go right – and Dan’s horse had a run, and this is our starting point.

“We’ll be going up in trip at some point. I’m not sure where we’re going next, but he’s a horse who’s going to be competing in all the good races.”

Skeltons strike Market Rasen gold with Fair Mountain

Champion jockey Harry Skelton enjoyed a victory aboard Fair Mountain as spectators returned to Market Rasen for the first time in 14 months.

Contesting the feature race on the card, the Tickets Available For Boxing Day Handicap Hurdle, the gelding capitalised on his lowest ever rating to strike by two and half lengths at odds of 7-1 for trainer Dan Skelton.

The nine-year-old was dismounted on track following the performance, with his jockey reporting him to have felt slightly sore when pulling up.

“Just when I pulled up, I felt he wasn’t quite 100 per cent,” he said.

“Hopefully it’s not too serious, he’s just a little bit sore probably.

“He’s such a game horse and he travelled with such enthusiasm.

“He’s like that at home, he just really loves the game and it’s nice to get his head in front.”

Micky Hammond’s High Noon was a 12-1 winner of the Dam Buster Handicap Chase under Conor O’Farrell, passing 18-1 chance and eventual runner up Dallas Cowboy before the penultimate flight to prevail by two and a quarter lengths.

The Welcome Back To Market Rasen Racecourse Novices’ Hurdle was claimed by Fergal O’Brien’s Timberman, who duly justified his status as 5-4 favourite when rallying over the last obstacle to prevail by three-quarters of a length from Dan Skelton’s Ambassador.

“It was tactical, it was a sprint from the second-last,” jockey Paddy Brennan said.

“I knew if they went slow, the first one to play his cards would be the one with the advantage, and that was me.

“It’s so much better with the people here, it’s great to see fans back today and that’s what it’s all about.”

Bowser was an 8-1 winner of the Market Rasen Annual Badge Holders Handicap Hurdle under Sean Quinlan, crossing the line a comfortable six and half lengths ahead of 5-2 favourite Serjeant Painter.

The six-year-old joined the yard of Jennie Candlish in January from Michael Winters and was stepping down to two miles after three beaten attempts on English soil.

“He’s come from Ireland and it just took us a few runs to get to know him,” said Quinlan.

“We’ve run him on the wrong ground and the wrong trip, good ground and two miles seems to have done the job.”

Design Icon triumphed in the Book Betway Summer Plate Ladies Day Maiden Hurdle after a photo finish was required to separate the gelding and runner-up Who’s The Guv’Nor.

Trained by Kim Bailey and piloted by Ciaran Gethings, the 13-2 shot tracked the leader before striking late to hit the front on the line.

“He just needs experience,” Gethings said.

“He never even ran in a bumper, he just went straight over hurdles.

“He’s done his job now, he’s won, and the improvement today will be massive.”

The five-year-old has a chasing pedigree and Gethings would not discount a switch to fences in the future.

“He hasn’t got the the most scope in the world, but he’s well able to jump a hurdle,” he said.

“He’s very barrel-like and that’s (chasing) what he’s bred to do.”

Well Smitten was victorious for Sam England in the C31 Limited Handicap Chase after a busy four-way finish.

The nine-year-old approached the final fence in third place, but was able to gradually pick off his rivals to cross the line a length ahead of 11-4 favourite Minella Voucher.

“He’s a lovely old horse, he’s an extremely good jumper – a schoolmaster really,” said jockey Jonathan England of the 13-2 chance.

“He’s been knocking on the door for a while and it was nice to get his head in front, he’s pretty much anyone’s ride.”

The final contest of the day, the Next Race Meeting Friday 4th June Standard Open National Hunt Flat Race, went the way of Grozni (5-1) for Brian Hughes and Denis Hogan.

Monday Musings: A Controversial End

The jumps season 2020/21 ended with controversy when the heavily-backed favourite Enrilo finished first past the post in the Bet365 Gold Cup at Sandown Park, but was disqualified and placed third after hanging left and hampering the challenging Kitty’s Light up the run-in, writes Tony Stafford.

Meanwhile, as newly-crowned champion Harry Skelton struggled to keep his mount straight, up the inside steamed the Alan King-trained Potterman. His spurt under Tom Cannon got him into a narrow second place just before the line and, following a lengthy stewards’ inquiry, Paul Nicholls and owners Martin Broughton and friends were left with a £52k shortfall as Enrilo was put back to third.

Nobody, least of all Alan King, believes Potterman deserved to pick up the money and it was almost in the Nureyev mould of verdict. Back in 1980 that French-trained son of Northern Dancer interfered with Posse some way from home when a hot favourite for the 2,000 Guineas, beat Known Fact by a neck, but afterwards he was disqualified and placed last by the stewards.

Posse had recovered well enough to finish third and while I’m sure owner Stavros Niarchos would not have been any less unhappy had a similar outcome to Saturday’s left Nureyev in the minor position, it had real reverberations at the time. Nureyev was due to return for the Derby but missed the race, never appeared again and was retired to stud, where he was a great success.

In those far off days I loved an ante-post punt – any punt really! – and had quite a chunk at 20/1 about Nureyev after his six-length debut victory in Paris the previous autumn. My memory in the interim had played its usual tricks, the recollection being that he’d won by far more than the actual margin. For the outrage to last well into this century as it did, he needed to have done so!

If the stewards of the BHA do not overturn the verdict at the appeal Paul Nicholls plans to lodge, it will not take too much gloss off the stellar seasons of either trainer or rider. Nicholls for now ends with 176 wins, five more than his previous best achieved in 2016/7. Skelton finished with 152, ten ahead of last year’s champion, Brian Hughes. A late flurry of winners, 17 in the final fortnight compared to five by his rival, clinched the deal with much more comfort than could ever have been predicted.

What did alter the dynamic was the readiness for Harry to accept more rides for outside stables. Of the 152 wins – not his best, he got to 178 when Richard Johnson had 201, his second double-century, but this was a delayed start due to Covid last summer – 136 were for Dan. Of the 558 mounts during the season, only 68 were for other trainers, yet in that last fortnight, six wins were hewn from 16 outside rides.

When Nick Skelton sent his two sons to learn their trade with Nicholls 15 or so years ago, he will have had lofty ambitions for them. One day, walking past Raymond Tooth’s Mayfair office, Nick bumped into the lawyer who at the time had a powerful team and indeed had already won his Champion Hurdle with Punjabi. “When are you going to send a horse for Dan to train?” asked Nick.

It was probably a couple of years on that Notnowsam, whose trainer Noel Quinlan was about to hand in his notice, arrived in the Skelton yard. A few days later, on May Bank Holiday Monday six years ago, he duly trotted up first time in a novice handicap chase, not a bad effort for a four-year-old.

Sadly Notnowsam proved much better at finishing second than winning after that bright start and when eventually he was sent to the sales, he was bought by Micky Hammond, for whom he was little short of a disaster.

At the time I hadn’t been aware of it, but later I learned that before Dan had arranged to collect Notnowsam he called Noel Quinlan to check that he was happy for the horse to leave and join him. “That’s a gentleman!” said a delighted former trainer, after the Warwick win.

This time of year always coincides with Punchestown and the conclusion of Ireland’s jump season. For four consecutive years I made the journey to Ireland and in 2009 drove via the ferry as Punjabi attempted a third successive win at the fixture.

As a juvenile in 2007 he was third in the Triumph Hurdle behind Katchit but won the Grade 1 juvenile race at Punchestown. The next year, he was again third to Katchit, this time in the Champion Hurdle before winning the Irish Champion at Punchestown.

After his win at Cheltenham in 2009 hopes obviously were high for the three-timer, but he missed the last hurdle when narrowly ahead and, in the testing ground, just failed to hold off the stayer Solwhit who got up on the line.

As I said, I’d driven over this time, and where I had to park the car, the ground was absolutely sodden. A few days later my ankle became very swollen and I ended up spending almost a week in hospital – my first since having my tonsils removed 56 years previously.

The diagnosis was that I’d probably been bitten by insects and the poison had got into my bloodstream so badly that I needed to be on a drip for the first few days of my stay. It was so frustrating because I’d wanted Nicky Henderson to try to win the Chester Cup. Punjabi had won the only two Flat races he ever contested since joining from previous trainer, Geraldine Rees. I’ve no idea if he’d have been good enough to win it but at the time my reasoning had been, we’ve already won twice over there, whereas winning the Chester Cup would always be special for an English owner.

Nicholls and the Skeltons will both be in action at Punchestown this week, but UK-trained raiders will hardly make a ripple, certainly nothing to compare with the steamrollering domination of the Irish at Cheltenham and Aintree.

Kim Bailey runs First Flow and Skelton Nube Negra in the William Hill Champion Chase tomorrow where the Queen Mother Champion Chase winner Put The Kettle On will be missing as she tried unsuccessfully to win at Sandown on Saturday. For once the raider was blown away as Nicholls’ new star, Greaneteen, a valiant Altior, and Sceau Royal all finished ahead of the mare.

In a seven-horse race, this still means the Queen Mother Chase’s beaten favourite, Chacun Pour Soi, will be out to repair his slightly-tarnished reputation on a day that Paul Townend’s title challenge enters a crucial stage.

Passed fit to ride after his recent injury, his absence has allowed Rachael Blackmore to get to within four as she seeks the first championship. Her list of achievements is already overwhelming, but a jockeys’ title would in terms of merit be the pinnacle.  Willie Mullins isn’t making it that easy for Townend as his mount is only one of three in the race for the trainer in a field of seven and Blackmore retains the ride on her easy Ryanair Chase winner, Allaho. I reckon that horse’s stamina will have the Cheveley Park colours to the fore at the line.

The first handicap of the day, a 0-145 hurdle is a typical full field of 25 with reserves. Mullins has seven in that, including three that came over for the Festival, running respectively in the 0-155 County Hurdle, the Coral Cup and Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ race. What chance Gentleman De Mee, the beaten favourite who set up the Martin Pipe for stablemate Galopin Des Champs when making the running, will have his day in the sun tomorrow dropping back to two miles?

With 19 runners on the opening day then 42, 23, 22 and 40 entered for the rest of the week it might look a foregone conclusion that Townend will hold on. The snag with Mullins though is that there’s multiple entries in so many of these races and they are all “off for their lives” – “up to a point” as William Boot, the hero of Evelyn Waugh’s hilarious novel “Scoop” might say. And that is as it should be.

Not everyone thought that a certain race at Lingfield the other day was totally kosher. Last Wednesday, seven horses lined up for a mile and a half novice race and Polling Day, trained by John and Thady Gosden and ridden by Frankie Dettori, was the 2-9 favourite following a smooth debut win over the course a month earlier.

Also in the line-up for the Gosdens was 16-1 shot Stowell, a Nat Rothschild-owned son of Zoffany making his debut under Rab Havlin. In an almost comic-cuts exhibition, Havlin managed to get his mount to finish a close second when it looked from the sidelines that he should have won comfortably.

The post-race interview by the local stewards provided lengthy ammunition for the Racing Post comments writer who reported Havlin’s saying that Stowell is a fragile colt with a high knee action. He said John Gosden had instructed him not to use his whip but that he should be ridden to get the best possible position.

I’ve spoken to plenty of trainers and they are all adamant. One said: “If those two horses had been trained by me, I’d have been looking at a lengthy ban!” Have a look yourselves. Seriously, it can seem in racing there’s often one rule for the chosen few and another for everyone else.

New champion Harry Skelton full of praise for brother Dan’s backing

Harry Skelton has paid tribute to his brother Dan’s role in helping him to secure a first National Hunt jockeys’ championship.

All but a handful of Skelton’s 150-plus winners this year have been trained by Dan, with the duo having formed a potent partnership since striking out on their own, with the support of their Olympic gold medal-winning showjumper father Nick, nearly 10 years ago.

Skelton sealed the title after a thrilling battle with defending champion Brian Hughes, who eventually had to concede defeat on Thursday after time ran out.

“Everyone knows I ride for Dan and I don’t have too many other outside rides, but the planning and everything has been down to Dan. He knew exactly what needed to be done. Without him planning and doing all that, I wouldn’t have been in the position,” said Skelton.

Dan and Harry Skelton have formed a powerful partnership
Dan and Harry Skelton have formed a powerful partnership (David Davies/PA)

“We’re brothers and blood is thicker than water. The two of us have always done it together – that’s the way it is. He wants me to achieve and become the best I can and I want the same for him.

“Our owners have been fantastic and very loyal, I’m very grateful to everyone that has reached out and given me a chance to ride a winner for them, especially over the last eight weeks. It’s been fantastic and hopefully I’ve repaid them when they have booked me and given them a winner as well.”

Skelton’s progress has not been a straight line with his total dwindling to just eight winners in the 2012/13 before Dan took the plunge and set up on his own, sparking a renaissance in his brother’s riding career in the process.

He explained: “When I lost my claim, that year was all right, it was the year after it just came to a bit of a halt. I rode eight winners one season and it was disappointing.

“I was at Paul Nicholls’ for nine years and I suppose as one door closes, another one opens, but luckily Dan came along at the right time and started training. It was like we were both starting again and without him, I wouldn’t be sat here in the position I’m in.

“All my eggs were in the Lodge Hill basket, dad set us up and it was down to us then to basically not mess it up.

Harry Skelton with John Hales and Politologue
Harry Skelton with John Hales and Politologue (Jacob King/PA)

“It never really crossed my mind to give up. It was a hard year, but it was a year, not four or five years. I was lucky that Dan started and if he hadn’t, who knows what might have happened.

“The year before Dan started, I was riding out for as many people as I could, six days a week, travelling up and down the country and I have so much respect for all the lads in the weighing room who do that now.”

Skelton admits the winning mentality is a family trait and his father provided him with some sage advice gleaned from his breathtaking Olympic success in 2016 as he began his title push in earnest over the last few weeks.

He said: “Obviously dad has had a massive impact on my life. He’s been there and done it. It was only a little while ago John Hales, who is a family friend (and owner), said ‘you’ve got to ask your dad what he went through in that final round at Rio and how he handled it’.

“He was just there to support me really, he didn’t add any pressure on to it. You’ve just got to do everything you would normally do, that’s what he said. Take it day be day, race by race and try not to get ahead of yourself. Every race was important and every ride was important, concentrate on that moment in time and do the best you can from one race to the next.

Harry Skelton celebrates with his Bridget
Harry Skelton celebrates with wife Bridget (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

“Me and Dan have been brought up with horses, in showjumping and racing, and it was about winning. That was our life, that’s all we’ve ever known.”

Skelton’s wife Bridget Andrews is also no stranger to success, being a Cheltenham Festival-winning jockey herself, but the champion believes his title campaign has perhaps been toughest on those around him.

He said: “Bridget’s been amazing, the last three weeks have been difficult. It’s probably been harder on Bridget, my dad and Dan than it has on myself because they can only get me to the races and get me on the horse, then it’s down to me.

“When you really want something, it’s amazing what the mind can do. You do think about it all the time – it’s 24/7 with a battle like it’s been – but I was happy being there as it’s something I was trying to achieve.

“Of course (I will try to defend the title). Every day you are trying to win, not a lot is going to change because I go out every day and try my best. I’ll just give it everything and you just want to keep riding winners – that’s all you can do.”