Tag Archive for: Protektorat

Skelton charting direct Festival route for Nube Negra

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Protektorat sparks Gold Cup dreams at Aintree

Protektorat burst into the Cheltenham Gold Cup picture with a dominant display in the Unibet Many Clouds Chase, providing Bridget Andrews with the most notable victory of her career into the bargain.

With partner and stable jockey Harry Skelton in action at Sandown, Andrews came in for the mount on the Paddy Power Gold Cup runner-up.

For owner John Hales, who for so long has coveted the Gold Cup and has come close on several occasions with One Man and Neptune Collonges, he appears to have another viable contender for racing’s blue riband.

Beating a soon-to-be 12-year-old Native River perhaps still leaves him with plenty to find – despite the 25-length winning margin – against the top Irish horses such as A Plus Tard, Minella Indo and Al Boum Photo, but he could do no more than win as he liked.

With Imperial Aura pulled up on the first circuit and dual Grand National winner Tiger Roll calling it a day not long after, as well as The Two Amigos falling, Protektorat really only had Native River to beat from a long way out.

But having raced keenly early on, he at least had to prove he stayed three miles in the mud and while he did not come under pressure, he certainly was not stopping.

“I was maybe surprised at how far we won, but the testing conditions are catching lots of horses out,” said Andrews.

“We did go a sensible gallop but he has such a high cruising speed, all he does is keep going. I fought him for so long and in the end I couldn’t waste any more energy on him.

“I just tried to relax him and hope he kept going, that was the hardest part of the race.

“He’s got endless amounts of talent and I’m just so lucky to be riding him.

“We always knew he had that talent, but he’s been keen in the past and it was a case of trying to use it right – that was my only concern as he’s a big, strong horse and I’m not very big.

“He was going around at half-speed and we couldn’t go any slower so in the end I just let him jump to the front because once you let him down all he was going to do is gallop.”

John Hales may have another Gold Cup horse on his hands
John Hales may have another Gold Cup horse on his hands (Tim Goode/PA)

Hales, who owns the winner in a partnership with Sir Alex Ferguson, said: “We never had any doubts about Bridget and I wasn’t concerned at all about three miles given how he came up the hill in the Paddy Power. The Gold Cup is the dream again.”

The sponsors cut the winner to 16-1 from 50s for the Gold Cup.

Gordon Elliott, speaking at Navan, ruled out retirement for Tiger Roll.

“I doubt it would be his last race, definitely not,” he said.

“The ground went very soft over there so it probably wouldn’t have been ideal. We’ll see how we are.”

Nietzsche seeking to add Paddy Power Gold to Greatwood glory

Brian Ellison’s Nietzsche is aiming for his own little piece of racing history should he win the Paddy Power Gold Cup on Saturday.

Having already won the Greatwood Hurdle in 2018, he would become the first horse to land the two feature handicaps at Cheltenham’s November meeting.

Given the Greatwood has been won by a subsequent Champion Hurdle winner and the Paddy Power has been used as a springboard to the Gold Cup, it would be quite an achievement from Ellison to get a horse who has never been rated higher than 137 to win both.

Effective on the Flat, over hurdles and fences, Nietzsche was last seen running at Catterick on the level in October, when Ellison hopes he blew away any cobwebs.

“It would be some achievement if he can pull it off,” said Ellison.

“It’s obviously a tough, open race but he’s going there in good fettle.

“We know he likes Cheltenham, he’s won a Greatwood and ran well over fences there over two miles last December and he even ran well at the Festival over three miles when he just didn’t stay. He’s in good form.

“The ground looks like being beautiful so it shouldn’t be an excuse for anyone.

“He had a run at Catterick and that was just to sharpen him up. He worked well the other day so we just need a bit of luck now.”

Coole Cody and Tom O'Brien on their way to victory last year
Coole Cody and Tom O’Brien on their way to victory last year (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

Coole Cody returns to defend his crown off a 4lb higher mark, having dug deep to prevail under Tom O’Brien 12 months ago.

Trainer Evan Williams said: “He’s just a grand, grand horse. Of course it will be very difficult to go back and reproduce what he did last year, but he runs so well whenever he goes to Cheltenham and it’s just a joy to have a horse that has won a Paddy Power and is going back there to defend his crown.

“It’s great for a horse of his age to retain such enthusiasm for the job – he’s fantastic.”

Al Dancer has plenty of smart Cheltenham form and was third to Coole Cody last year.

Formerly a stalwart of the Nigel Twiston-Davies yard, the Dai Walters-owned grey is 5lb lower now and will be having his first start for Sam Thomas, who said: “I’m delighted to have such a nice horse and we couldn’t have been happier with his work.

Al Dancer has a liking for Cheltenham
Al Dancer has a liking for Cheltenham (Tim Goode/PA)

“With a horse rated that high, if you wanted to run him a month or three weeks before there aren’t that many options, so we thought we’d go there fresh.

“He’s had a couple of away days and he’s not going to need the run. There’ll be no moaning afterwards about a lack of fitness, I don’t think.

“We’re optimistic as opposed to anything else as it’s obviously a tough ask in a big race like this, but we’re looking forward to it anyway.”

Protektorat was a course and distance winner as a novice and struck at Grade One level at the Aintree Grand National meeting.

Trainer Dan Skelton said: “We’ve had this race in mind ever since he came in. He has won around the track, it is worth a lot of money and it seemed a good starting point.

“I’m not worried I’ve not got a run into him as he has done loads at home and he has been on the grass gallop twice now so I’m happy. I’m looking forward to it.”

Protektorat starred at Aintree
Protektorat starred at Aintree (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

Al Dancer is not the only contender that has moved yards, as Simply The Betts and Lalor represent Paul Nicholls for the first time, having been with Harry Whittington and Kayley Woollacott respectively.

The champion trainer told Betfair: “Simply The Betts hasn’t raced for a year, but he had a wind op in the summer and he has done nothing but please since arriving in the yard. We took him to Exeter recently for a racecourse gallop and is as fit as I can get him without a run.

“I’m still learning about Simply The Betts who has smart form and finished sixth in this race a year ago. But he hasn’t run since and has top weight so he probably has it all to do.”

Lalor is hugely talented at his best
Lalor is hugely talented at his best (David Davies/PA)

He added of Lalor: “We also gave him a wind op when he was sent to us and he has had a trouble-free prep for this race with lots of work, including an away day at Wincanton when he galloped with Politologue. He went nicely there, is very fit and well and ready to run for his life.

“Although he did have very good form in the past, he was pulled up on his last two starts so there are questions to answer. Lalor appears to be over his problems and looks fantastic, but he has to do it on the track now in a really competitive handicap.”

Fergal O’Brien is happy with Paint The Dream, who made a successful return at Chepstow last month in his first race since finishing third in the Grade One Scilly Isles Novices’ Chase at Sandown in February.

“I’m looking forward to him running but it’s a tough ask. He hasn’t been laid out for it and we don’t know how much mileage is left in his handicap mark but he goes there in great form,” he said.

“The ground will suit him and I think the race will suit him and it’s fingers crossed.”

Manofthemountain in action at Bangor
Manofthemountain in action at Bangor (David Davies/PA)

Immediately behind Paint The Dream at Chepstow was the Emma Lavelle-trained Manofthemountain.

Lavelle said: “He’s definitely tightened up for that run and he’s in great order.”

“The idea had been to go for the Grand Sefton at Aintree last weekend, but the ground was just too soft for him. It’s all about jumping round Cheltenham and that’s one thing that he absolutely loves doing. He’s a great traveller, he ran against Frodon there over three-miles-one last year and they were neck and neck, but he just didn’t get home.

“I think two and a half miles is much more his trip and we’re looking forward to it.”

Maximum field declared for Paddy Power

Simply The Betts and Protektorat top the weights for the Paddy Power Gold Cup after a maximum field of 20 was declared for the valuable handicap chase at Cheltenham on Saturday.

The original top weight, Assemble, was withdrawn at the 48-hour final declaration stage on Thursday leaving the Paul Nicholls-trained Simply The Betts and Dan Skelton’s Protektorat, part-owned by Sir Alex Ferguson, at the head of the list.

Nicholls also has leading ante-post fancy Lalor, formerly trained by Kayley Woollacott, going for honours while Skelton has Spiritofthegames, who was runner-up 12 months ago.

Last year’s winner Coole Cody, trained by Evan Williams, bids to become only the sixth horse to land the prize twice with the last being Cyfor Malta in 1998 and 2002.

Al Dancer, who was third in 2020 when with Nigel Twiston-Davies, bids to go two places better for Sam Thomas.

Others in the mix include Nicky Henderson’s Caribean Boy, Sue Smith’s Midnight Shadow and the Brian Ellison-trained Nietzsche, winner of the Greatwood Hurdle in 2018.

Skelton’s Third Time Lucki, hugely impressive at the October meeting, faces three rivals in the Grade Two From The Horse’s Mouth Podcast Novices’ Chase.

Two of those are Dr Richard Newland’s Captain Tom Cat and Nicholls’ Mick Pastor, first and second in the “Rising Stars” Novices’ Chase at Wincanton last week. Tom Lacey’s Sebastopol also runs.

Sporting John (right) beat Shan Blue last season but returns over hurdles
Sporting John (right) beat Shan Blue last season but returns over hurdles (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

Philip Hobbs’ Sporting John returns over the smaller obstacles in the Paddy Power Games Handicap Hurdle.

A Grade One-winning novice chaser last term, he has had a wind operation since disappointing at Cheltenham and Aintree in the spring.

There are nine runners in the JCB Triumph Trial Juvenile Hurdle with Nicholls’ Magistrato catching the eye on his British debut at Chepstow.

Protektorat has Paddy Power Gold Cup in sights

Ante-post favourite Protektorat is reported to be firmly on course for the Paddy Power Gold Cup at Cheltenham.

The six-year-old has illustrious connections, owned by former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson together with John and Lisa Hales and Ged Mason – and trainer Dan Skelton could hardly be happier with his contender, who was a Grade One winner when last seen at the Aintree Grand National meeting.

He said: “He is a second-season chaser out of the novice ranks. Some can go and improve an awful lot, and others that is what they are and you have to rethink.

“We’ve had this race in mind ever since he came in. He has won around the track, it is worth a lot of money – and it seemed a good starting point.

“I’m not worried I’ve not got a run into him, because he has done loads at home and he has been on the grass gallop twice now, so I’m happy. I’m looking forward to it.”

He is also a course-and-distance winner, last November.

Skelton added: “That is why you look back at that novice chase last year and you think ‘well, he can act around the track’.

“I’m happy that he won’t sulk, because we have got him really well. I think that only happens when he runs on tacky ground where it was harder work than it needed to be. I’m happy, and he is ready for it.

“Whatever the weight is the weight is – you can’t change that, and I’m not worried about it.”

Third Time Lucki on his fencing bow at Cheltenham
Third Time Lucki on his fencing bow at Cheltenham (David Davies/PA)

Third Time Lucki is also due for action on Saturday, after the smart novice hurdler made a winning start over fences at Cheltenham in October.

Skelton said: “Third Time Lucki will run on Saturday in the Arkle trial. His debut there was lovely, and I enjoyed that.

“He is a nice horse and he has always been one of our best horses. He has just needed a time, and a fence.”

Much attention on day one of Cheltenham’s fixture will focus on Skelton’s My Drogo, in the November Novices’ Chase on Friday.

The Richard and Lizzie Kelvin-Hughes-owned gelding looked a potential star in the making at Aintree in April after rounding off an unbeaten season with victory in the Grade One Mersey Novices’ Hurdle.

My Drogo is expected to reach the very top over fences
My Drogo is expected to reach the very top over fences (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

Skelton said: “Everything has been good, and I’m happy with him.

“He started at Cheltenham last season in a bumper, and I’m happy to get going over fences there with him.

“He has been good schooling, but he has got to do it on the track. I don’t feel any extra pressure on my shoulders with him.”

Joining My Drogo on Friday duty could be stablemate and recent Carlisle scorer Kayf Hernando, in the Grade Two Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle.

Skelton said: “If the ground is nice he will probably run, but he is not guaranteed to run. He beat a very experienced horse in Mister Whitaker last time, and they were clear of the third.

“It was a very taking performance for a young horse, and you are entitled to think big – at least for now.”

Nube Negra will bid to avenge his defeat to Put The Kettle On in the Queen Mother Champion Chase at the Festival in March when the two lock horns in the Grade Two Shloer Chase on Sunday.

Skelton said: “Nube Negra is going to run in the Shloer. The ground is nice, and he is in good form so the plan is to have a go.

“The last three weeks, he has been going well at home and is ready to go. He has been on the grass gallop once – and as long as the ground remains as it is, we will have a go, but if it all of a sudden goes soft we won’t go.”

Protektorat on course for Paddy Power Gold Cup date

Part-owner John Hales is excited about his Grade One-winning novice Protektorat starting his season in the Paddy Power Gold Cup next month.

The Dan Skelton-trained six-year-old, who also counts Sir Alex Ferguson among his owners, enjoyed his finest hour when winning the Manifesto Novices’ Chase at the Grand National meeting.

The first major handicap of the new season has been his aim for some time and the sponsors make him their 7-1 favourite.

“It was an excellent performance at Aintree and, fingers crossed, I genuinely think this is a very good horse. He’s had a few niggling problems, but he was fit that day and produced a lovely performance,” said Hales.

“The Paddy Power Gold Cup is the early season target and this race was always the plan over the summer after that performance. He has matured very well in the summer, grown up physically and developed very well and this was the logical target to go for.”

All Protektorat’s wins have come with the word soft in the description and Hales admits he would not want quick ground.

“I think he is a typical French-bred and likes a bit of cut in the ground. The softer side of good – it doesn’t matter to him,” said Hales.

“I would normally have something in mind (for later in the season) but he likes to go left-handed rather than right-handed.

“If he produced a top performance, I’d say the King George but he won’t be going for that as he doesn’t like going right-handed, so that’s a non-starter and we’ll have to talk to Dan.

“Possibly the Ryanair Chase could be an option later – he’s an improving horse and at this stage we’ll keep all opportunities open and see how he’s running. I’m very confident in this horse and hopefully if he keeps fit, the Ryanair could be one of many options at Cheltenham or Aintree.”

Protektorat strikes early at Aintree for Skelton

Protektorat gave title-chasing jockey Harry Skelton a flying start to the three-day Grand National meeting by winning the Grade One SSS Super Alloys Manifesto Novices’ Chase at Aintree.

Skelton delivered the six-year-old, trained by his brother Dan, with a well-timed challenge to lead on the run-in and land the spoils from The Shunter – with Hitman a close third.

Hitman was always prominent, with Fusil Raffles making the running until he was pulled up after making a bad mistake down the far side.

His exit left Hitman in front. But when it came to the business end of the two-and-a-half mile contest, he was strongly challenged first by The Shunter and then by Protektorat (17-2). The latter went on to win by three and three-quarter lengths.

The winning rider said: “He was very good today. It’s a great way to start the meeting.

“Dan has just said he’s never thought about a horse as much as he has about Protektorat this year. He has a hell of a lot of ability, but hasn’t been the easiest with his mind and wind issues.

“The last day at Kelso, it just didn’t happen for him, but he’s undergone a wind operation since then and has come right today.”

His delighted trainer added: “That was absolutely brilliant. Harry gave him a great ride.

“I didn’t expect that to happen. I said to the owners, who also had Hitman in the race, that today was a short-term plan to get a long-term result next year.

Sir Alex Ferguson watches on as Protektorat takes the spoils at Aintree
Sir Alex Ferguson watches on as Protektorat takes the spoils at Aintree (Tim Goode/PA)

“I thought he’d run creditably, but I didn’t expect him to win. It’s a long way back from Kelso, where he was beaten after the second jump – he was jumping right-handed and didn’t want to be there.

“We mixed things up today – taking the hood off, putting the tongue-tie on and redoing his palate.

“That’s him done for the season now. I was thinking of starting him off back here in the Old Roan, but if the ground is right, maybe we’ll go straight to Wetherby for the Charlie Hall.”

Protektorat is part-owned by Sir Alex Ferguson, and Harry Skelton said: “It’s brilliant to have owners back. They’ve been so patient through this difficult period, but they’ve stuck by us and hopefully they’re here to stay now.”

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.”

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.”