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.

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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.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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