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Shan Blue takes Kauto Star honours

Shan Blue extended his unbeaten sequence over fences with a decisive victory in the Ladbrokes Kauto Star Novices’ Chase at Kempton.

Dan Skelton’s six-year-old was winning his third race in succession since beginning his chasing career this season, being up with the pace throughout and often jumping with great fluency to prevail by three and three-quarter lengths from The Big Breakaway.

The 7-4 favourite, ridden by the trainer’s brother Harry, was just a length in front at the last so needed another good jump – and duly got one, while runner-up The Big Breakaway made a mistake and stumbled on landing.

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Shan Blue then stayed on impressively – with If The Cap Fits, who had struggled to stay in touch early on, rallying late to snatch third.

Skelton said: “When you need him for a big jump to maintain a lead or maintain an advantage in a race, he is there for you.

“The reason he is a good horse is that he jumps well. He was better than average as a hurdler, but not by much – now he is a chaser you are seeing a really good horse and that is because he is a good jumper.”

Looking ahead, Skelton said: “I think an RSA could be a real stretch for him. I don’t think he is a slogger and I think today proved that, as he was very nimble at his jumps. I think with that in mind you have got to be mindful that coming back in trip is probably more sensible.

“He will be entered in both (Marsh Novices’ Chase and RSA) and we will go to the Scilly Isles perhaps on the way.

“He has got a Grade One penalty now, so we don’t need to be shouldering him with massive penalties in normal novice races and at the end of the day he has proved he can do it.”

Of The Big Breakaway, Joe Tizzard, assistant to his father Colin, said: “He ran an absolute blinder. Robbie (Power) was delighted with him and he learnt more today than he did in his first two runs over fences.

“Robbie doesn’t think he would have beaten the winner if he had winged the last as he was having to stretch to get there.

“Cheltenham obviously plays to his strengths and he looked more of a galloper there, so we will work back from the RSA. Whether we run again or not, I’m not sure. He jumped at pace today and he got in tight to a few of the last four fences, but he was clever at them and that is part of learning.”

Shan Blue expected to relish Kauto Star challenge

Dan Skelton reports Shan Blue to be in excellent order ahead of his attempt to secure a first Grade One success in the Kauto Star Novices’ Chase.

The six-year-old returns to top-level action for the first time since finishing sixth behind Envoi Allen in the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival, as he puts his unbeaten record over fences on the line at Kempton Park on Boxing Day

Shan Blue has not put a foot wrong on his switch to fences this term, securing back-to-back successes at Wetherby in October – with his latest success coming on his first try over three miles.

Skelton said: “I’m very happy with Shan Blue and I’ve had this race in mind since his second win at Wetherby.

“He has been in great form at home, I’m really happy with him and he is ready to go.

“Although he hasn’t run right-handed over fences I think the track should him and we saw last time the step up to three miles was a positive.”

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The Big Breakaway will look to return to winning ways over fences (Alan Crowhurst/PA)
The Big Breakaway will look to return to winning ways over fences (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

Impressive on his chasing debut at Cheltenham, The Big Breakaway was surprisingly beaten when dropped to two miles and three furlongs at Exeter last time out and is expected to appreciate stepping back up in trip.

Joe Tizzard, assistant to his father, Colin, said: “He got beaten last time out in a race that wasn’t run to suit, as it ended up turning into a bit of a sprint.

“When you are a short-priced favourite it is disappointing when they get beat, but I don’t think he lost a lot in defeat as he was second to a half-decent horse he was giving weight away to. And it got more experience into him.

“Going back up in trip where there will be more pace and he doesn’t have to make the running, and where he can take a lead, will play to his strengths.

“It is another step up the ladder for him, but an exciting one.”

If The Cap Fits on his way to making a winning debut over fences at Ffos Las (David Davies/PA)
If The Cap Fits on his way to making a winning debut over fences at Ffos Las (David Davies/PA)

Harry Fry is confident the return of cheekpieces can benefit Grade One-winning hurdler If The Cap Fits, who struck gold on his chasing bow at Ffos Las and bids to go one better than in a Listed contest at Sandown last time out.

Fry said: “We’ve decided to give him more time between his races as we probably turned him around too quickly at Sandown.

“He is coming into the race fresh and well and he has the cheekpieces back on, which made a difference over hurdles.

“The experience of going three miles around Sandown will not be lost on him. We looked at this and the Dipper at Cheltenham, but we thought three miles on a flat track will play to his strengths.

“The ground won’t be an issue and he has won on the card before, having won the opening novice hurdle (in 2017). It’s competitive, as you would expect, but he deserves to take his chance.”

Paul Nicholls hopes to be rewarded for adopting a patient approach with Grade Two-winning hurdler Enrilo, who got off the mark at the second time of asking over fences at Exeter.

Nicholls said: “It looks a hot race, but I think it’s quite open.

“He’s rated 140, but could end up being rated a lot higher than that. He jumped nicely at Chepstow first time (over fences) and then he won nicely at Exeter.

“I didn’t want to run him again and give him a hard race before Kempton. I’ve saved him for this race and he’ll run well.”

The field is completed by the Philip Hobbs-trained Kalooki, One For The Team from the yard of Nick Williams and Golan Fortune, who will represent Phil Middleton.

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.”