School Report 2021: must do better…. but can British trainers improve at the Cheltenham Festival in 2022?

The William Hill Trophy Handicap Chase” (CC BY-SA 2.0) by Carine06

It is fair to say the 2021 Cheltenham Festival was a dominant week for the Irish, with UK runners disappointing across the board. Of the 28 races, just five were won by horses trained in the UK, which led to a lot of questions being asked about the quality of UK racing at the moment, and the ability of our trainers to get their best horses ready for the big day. Even now, our premier mid season staying chase has been won by a Mullins – trained horse, so our problems haven’t gone away.

The countdown to 2022 is on, and the big question hanging over the Festival surrounds how well the UK runners can compete this time around, and are they in for another drubbing?

If you look at the odds ahead of Cheltenham, then you will see a number of races where Irish horses are amongst the favourites, but even with that, it would be a stretch to say they are capable of performing at the same level as last season again. As it stands, Ireland is at 1/6 and the UK 6/1 to take the Prestbury Cup, the inter country tally to see which side of the Irish Sea fares best over the four days. While the racing betting UK odds certainly favour Ireland, the hope is that the UK can move in the right direction and get double-figure victories on the board. 

For that to happen, the UK would essentially need three winners on two of the four days of the meeting, with two winners on the other two days, but who are the main contenders?

The British best hopes for the 2022 Festival

The Supreme Novices’ Hurdle kicks off the Festival, a race that often goes to Ireland, but hopes are high in the UK this season. Henderson – trained Constitution Hill and Jonbon lead the market, after the recent Tolworth Hurdle victory of Constitution Hill, a race that he won by 12 lengths.

On the second day of the meeting, all UK eyes will be on one runner and that is Shishkin, a horse that is likely to turn up as one of the UK bankers of the week, assuming preparations go well. He won the Arkle Chase in great style last season and would love to follow that up by taking the premier two-mile chase event this season.

On Thursday, the most interesting runner on the whole card is more than likely going to be Champ. A Gold Cup hopeful last season, he was expected to go down that route again this season, but an impressive win over hurdles on seasonal debut has seen trainer Nicky Henderson open up a new option in the Stayers Hurdle.

The meeting rounds off on Friday and the headline race on that day is of course the Gold Cup. This is a race dominated by Irish runners, with the likes of Minella Indo, A Plus Tard, Galvin and Al Boum Photo all fancied to go well.

From a UK point of view, Protektorat, Chantry House and Champ, if he doesn’t run on Thursday, lead the way, but so far, all of them are outsiders in the race.

The disappointing total of five winners last season should not be repeated, but the strength of Irish racing right now means that low double figures is the best that the UK can hope for in 2022.

If you’re already salivating at the thought of the sport’s 4 day bonanza, consider also adding the Monday of that week here at Stratford. Our competitive card gives riders and trainers a pipe-opener to get in the winning mood before the tense moments of the subsequent four days.

Does Skelton have a Gold Cup winner in Protektorat?

All trainers dream of winning the Cheltenham Gold Cup, but for Dan Skelton that dream could soon be a reality due to the excellence of Protektorat on the track in the 2021/22 campaign. The bay gelding had a solid end to the previous campaign, and Skelton would have been more hopeful than expectant of his charge taking the next step in his development.

However, he has put in two outstanding performances at the start of the campaign to push his case to be a leading contender for the Gold Cup in March. If you’re one to bet on horse racing, you’ll probably be aware that Protektorat’s 16/1 odds have plummeted since the start of the season when he was considered a rank outsider for the crown. A quick look at the racing tips today will also tell you that Irish contender A Plus Tard is the favourite for the Gold Cup, and rightly so given his performance at the Betfair Chase.

Leading contenders have been beaten in this prestigious race before and will be again. There will be an opportunity for Protektorat to prove his quality, although his previous appearance at Cheltenham Festival was disappointing, to say the least. In 2020, he competed in the Coral Cup and was backed at decent odds to take that competitive handicap back to Alcester. Harry Skelton took the reins, but could not get a tune out of the bay gelding at the business end of the race and faded from contention to finish 13th.

Protektorat is a much stronger competitor now than two years ago due to the six-year-old’s natural development. He ended the last campaign with a victory at the Manifesto Novices’ Chase at Aintree. The French – bred was on point on his return to the track following wind surgery. He beat The Shunter toe win by 3 3/4 lengths, ending his season on the front foot and with momentum to take into the new campaign.

It was evident that Protektorat had taken a stride forward as he competed in the Paddy Power Gold Cup at Cheltenham. Even though the bay gelding made a mistake at the fifth fence that would have normally derailed his race, Harry Skelton kept the horse on track and he responded with a brilliant effort, an effort that almost allowed him to close down Midnight Shadow, just losing out by three-quarters of a length.

Despite the Cheltenham defeat, Dan Skelton was optimistic that Protektorat was finding his peak form and his judgement was borne out in the Many Clouds Chase at Aintree. The French – bred was one of the top contenders alongside Native River from the in-form Tizzard yard. However, he would blow away the competition with a dominant performance, the best of his career, to win by 25 lengths with Bridget Andrews in the saddle.

Protektorat will need to produce his A game to win the Gold Cup. Dan Skelton will be hopeful that the French – bred has inherited the attributes of his famous owner Sir Alex Ferguson and his winning mentality for the grand occasion. The talent is there, but he will require a flawless effort to match the best in the sport come March.

Will Shan Blue bounce back from Charlie Hall tumble?

Dan Skelton is training a horse of magnificent calibre in the form of Shan Blue. The potential of the bay gelding is limitless, and there is a big race in him somewhere – and soon. Saturday’s Charlie Hall Chase at Wetherby could have been the start of a very productive campaign for Shan Blue along with Harry and Dan Skelton, were it not for that somersault at the third last with the race won.

The horse put down a dominating performance at Wetherby as he stormed 20 lengths clear of a field stacked with talent. All he had to do was clear the remaining fences and a signature win would have belonged to the Skeltons and owner Colm Donlon. However, Shan Blue had a crashing fall three fences from the end of the race when unchallenged, spurning a golden chance of victory. Nicky Henderson’s Fusil Raffles capitalised on his misfortune to win the contest.

Despite the setback, there should be high excitement about the future of Shan Blue in the 2021/22 National Hunt season. If you check today’s racing results you will no doubt see a high-profile horse that failed to perform, but it is the nature of the sport that mistakes and misfires occur on a daily basis even for the best of competitors. There’s a reason it’s called Jump racing: you have to jump round to win. Shan Blue is still backable as a solid contender for the Ryanair Chase at Cheltenham Festival in 2022, although Dan Skelton may opt to place his charge elsewhere and even the Gold Cup is a possibility.

The bay gelding was outstanding in the early stages of last term, reeling off three victories on the bounce, including a brilliant run at the Kauto Star Novices’ Chase before suffering a defeat at Sandown Park. The presence of Envoi Allen was supposed to leave his hopes in the Marsh Novices’ Chase as a write-off. However, after the favourite fell after the third fence, the race was blown wide open.

Shan Blue failed to rise to the occasion amid the talent of Chantry House, while he was forced to settle for fifth place behind the eventual winner along with Fusil Raffles, Asterion Forlonge, and Chatham Street Lad. The seven-year-old should have had the quality to compete for the middle distance novices crown, but was off the pace when it mattered most.

Chantry House would haunt the Skeltons and Shan Blue once more to end the campaign. The bay gelding was competitive for a time in the Mildmay Novices’ Chase at Aintree, but once Chantry House found his rhythm, he pulled away from Shan Blue and stormed to a dominant 32l victory. Given the end to the last campaign and the disappointment to start the new one, there might be question marks over Shan Blue. He has been found wanting at Grade I level. However, he remains a quality competitor and may need only one clean and flawless ride to regain his peak form.

Dan Skelton should be pressing his charge forward in the major races on the National Hunt calendar before Cheltenham 2022 and will not be deterred by the fear of failure. The example of Envoi Allen’s fall at the Marsh Novices’ Chase and Shan Blue’s own disappointment at the Charlie Hall Chase is evidence that anything can happen in the top races. Envoi Allen redeemed himself spectacularly at Down Royal on Saturday.

Skelton and Shan Blue just need the dice to fall in their favour and capitalise on the opportunity of a big prize for this exciting star of the future.

Kap Auteuil clocks four-timer to bookend our season

The feature event at Stratford’s penultimate fixture produced a race to savour when Kap Auteuil, successful here in March, completed a four-timer for long time owners Andrew and Sarah Wates in the colours made famous by Rough Quest in the National many moons ago.

Race sponsor Charlie Longsdon wasn’t represented in this annual race in his name, but he’ll wish he trained the winner, now that Toby Lawes has run up four chase winners with this French-bred son of Kapgarde. At the last, it was anyone’s race from the winner, Reserve Tank on the inside, and trying to come between horses, Carys’ Commodity. The last named hit the fence all wrong and capsized, whilst Reserve Tank fell independently, leaving the winner clear of a lucky Black Kalanisi for the Fergal O’Brien team. It’s an old adage but also true, that you have to jump round to win.

Kap Auteuil [noseband] and Tom Cannon win at Stratford. 28/10/2021 Pic Steve Davies

Toby Lawes, former work rider for Altior, and now embarked on a career training under his own name, has had a successful two days, this following a winner at Fakenham yesterday. If luck comes in threes, look out for his runners tomorrow.

The other handicap chase winner will have done nothing for injured Jonjo O’Neill Junior’s temper after Alan Cawley booted home the first of 3 winners today for the Jackdaws Castle team, with a double to follow under Richie McLernon at Ffos Las. Cawthorne Lad was largely unfancied, and was less than foot-perfect at the fifth, ninth and last, but by the home turn, Cawley had the measure of the race, and he was able to dominate Seamus Mullins’ Romanor, a winner here over half a mile shorter in July. The Jackdaws team are sending out runners and winners everywhere presently – definitely a team to follow.

The Queen may have something in common with Steel Wave, winner of the J H Rowe Memorial Chase later in the afternoon. Age doesn’t seem to be a barrier to either of them, and whilst the Gary Hanmer – trained Steel Wave can’t match Her Majesty’s 95 years, his 50 races ensure plenty of miles on the clock, but apparently, no loss of racing zest. The winner kept on nicely under Tabitha Worsely, another of our growing band of women riders ensuring racecourses are re-jigging the configuration of their changing room facilities.

Neighbour in the changing room, Bryony Frost continued her good week at the office with a follow up winner to yesterday’s at Taunton when Onemorefortheroad showed that experience counts against Alan King’s Call of the Wild in the British Stallion Studs EBF Nationakl Hunt Novices Hurdle. Frost conjured a good leap at the last against a sketchy one from her rival, and stayed on to a 1/2l victory.

The card opened with a mares maiden, in which Gazette Bourgeoise, trained by Ben Case at Edgcote, prevailed with some ease. The five year old ran consistently last winter whilst always finding one or two too good for her, and a summer seems to have improved her. A happy result all round, as well as for rider Harry Bannister, enjoying a 16th winner of the term.

Dan Skelton is a man on a mission to reach the top this season, focusing on quality runners to fill all the big races, but it’s rare not to write about him come a fixture at Stratford. We’re not going to make that omission here either, as despite withdrawing several runners on account of going quicker than he wanted, Dorisa Queen was able to send the team home to Alcester happy after triumphing by 4 1/4l in division one of the Wildix Unified Communications Handicap Hurdle, in the process earning brother Harry his 1,000th winner.

Harry Skelton jumps the last hurdle at Stratford for his 1000th career winner on Dorisa Queen. 28/10/2021 Pic Steve Davies

The second division went to another man in fine form at present. Ben Pauling has trained four winners in the last 7 days and the latest is 6 year old Norley, who justified 11/8 favouritism to win division two.

As if to prove that you don’t need to be of gold cup quality to produce a great finish, the Claire Dyson Equine Water Treadmill Selling Conditional Jockeys Hurdle produced a terrific finish in which any of three might have won at the last. The winner will head back to Grace Harris’s yard in Monmouthshire after failing to raise a bid in the ring afterwards, despite a most gutsy performance.

Is this the year for Skelton to win a Championship?

Dan Skelton looks set for another strong season as his yard seems to improve every year.

Skelton has made a solid start in the early stages of the 2021/22 campaign. As always, a lot will depend on who wins the big races at the major festivals this season as the Trainers’ Championship in Jump racing is decided on prize money. Much as we’d like to play a part during the frequent summer fixtures at Stratford, it’s more often that our early spring fixtures play a role in the closing stages of any championship bid.

With Champion Jockey Harry Skelton riding so well, the brothers may be in line for their best season yet on the track. Even if you weren’t able to attend this Spring, Skelton jnr was in blistering form as his elder brother helped him to a first Jockeys’ Championship with several doubles and trebles at Stratford in a blazing run of April form.

Strong Team Which Can Have Success At Cheltenham Festival

The Cheltenham Festival is the biggest meeting of the year in National Hunt racing. Although that comes at the end of the season, Skelton will already be thinking about which races his horses will run in, such is the impact of the Festival on the thinking of the elite of trainers.

Third Time Lucki last weekend made a winning start over fences at Cheltenham and he is likely to return to the same course for the Arkle. The novice chaser is 14/1 in the bet on horse racing ante-post market for the race at the Festival, although a lot of contenders haven’t yet been seen.

Skelton enjoyed four Grade One victories last season and one of those came with My Drogo in the Mersey Novices’ Hurdle at Aintree. The six-year-old was unbeaten over hurdles last year. He is now set to embark on a novice chase campaign. The horse is amongst the market leaders for all the novice chases next March.

Queen Mother Champion Chase runner-up Nube Negra looks set to tackle the leading 2m races this season. The Tingle Creek Chase at Sandown and the Desert Orchid Chase at Kempton both carry decent prize money ahead of his shot at the leading 2m chase contest at the Festival.

Henderson and Nicholls Likely To Be Biggest Rivals Again

Skelton was able to split Henderson and Nicholls for the first time in his career next season but he will be fully aware of how strong both stables are. It could be one of the closest title races yet between the three trainers. There’s a certain irony in Nicholls’ one-time protégé pinching the title from his former teacher.

Nicholls won his 12th Trainers’ Championship last season. He had 172 winners, which was a career best for the Ditcheat trainer. Although he did not have a great Cheltenham Festival, he won the Tingle Creek and King George VI Chase.

Henderson, who is an eight-time winner of the Trainers’ Championship, won the Arkle last season, one of the highlights for the Seven Barrows man. With Gold Cup contender Chantry House in his stable, he will once again be targeting some of the biggest 3m+ chases.

The Grand National at Aintree is a race Henderson has yet to win. The world’s most famous steeplechase will be one of his priorities this season. If he can land the Aintree feature, he will go a long way towards regaining his crown. Indeed, such is the scale of the prize fund for the National that it puts almost any of the top five contenders into the fray.

Hopefully, we will see lots of runners from Skelton, Nicholls and Henderson at Stratford from next March. It is set to be a fascinating battle between these three leading exponents of their profession.

Living legends: celebrating Racing long after the last flag has been raised

It’s well known that the Irish love their Jump racing. Of course, plenty of British trainers are painfully aware of that fact at the moment, given the dominance we have seen from the Irish at blue-riband events like Cheltenham in recent years, even at this past weekend’s Showcase fixture. But today, some of those Raiders who delighted both British and Irish fans alike have a home in the Living Legends tour in County Kildare.

Visitors can visit the tour at the Irish National Stud, brushing up against the likes of Faugheen, Hardy Eustace and Hurricane Fly. While it’s in its infancy, Living Legends is a fantastic idea and has room to evolve into something much bigger. Moreover, it’s something that should be considered on this side of the Irish Sea.

Would racing fans pay a few quid to visit some of the modern greats in the UK? Would they appreciate a day out reliving great memories with stars Altior, Sprinter Sacré and Cue Card? It’s easy to see something like that being popular with British racing fans.

Take, for example, the latest member of the Living Legends tour – Faugheen. It’s difficult to stress just how popular “The Machine” was in Ireland during his heyday. And, when he joined the Living Legends, it became national news. There was a great buzz about Faugheen’s arrival, and it also sparked online debate about who could be next to arrive – Douvan? Tiger Roll one day? Obviously, the focus is on geldings who can’t sire foals, but you could also make room for some mares, like Annie Power or Quevega, once their breeding days are done.

Faugheen in his pomp, under Ruby Walsh

Fans enjoy a special relationship with their National Hunt stars

The racing journalist Enda McElhinney, who writes for The Telegraph and MansionBet Blog, once wrote in the latter about the unique relationship between fans and jumps racing horses. The prolonged careers, “returning year in, year out”, allows fans to develop affinities with certain horses that is arguably not possible on the flat. Yes, we all loved Frankel and other stars of the flat, and some can have lengthy careers. But the jumps horses who re-emerge to surprise us and win us over again have a different kind of appeal.

Consider Sprinter Sacré’s Champion Chase win in 2016. There’s a fair argument that it was the best Cheltenham Festival moment of the 21st century. The proverbial roof came off the place, and the tears were flowing from more eyes than Nicky Henderson’s alone. But that moment came from fans developing a relationship with Sprinter down the years. The 2016 win carried the weight of history on Sprinter’s back, and that made it extra special.

Australia also has a living legends programme

Ireland is not alone in having a Living Legends tour. Australia, too, has it, although with a few differences. Ireland’s tour is run by the National Stud, whereas it’s a welfare charity Down Under. But you can see Melbourne Cup winners like Prince of Penzance, and it has homed many stars down the years, including Silent Witness and Apache Cat. The focus in Australia is a little different, having a big emphasis on taking horses ‘home’ from urban environments (notably Hong Kong), but the end result is similar: fans flock to see big names who sparkled on the track in the past.

Getting back to the British Isles, there is a logistical advantage for the Irish in terms of location (The National Stud in Kildare is within two hour’s drive of most of the major training operations) and in relationships through the various strata of racing, including government backing.

But wouldn’t it be nice to see a similar set-up in the UK?

Skelton and Murphy tune up for seasonal gear change

The Skelton machine has been quietly winding up to full speed, and this weekend’s full-blooded card across two days at Cheltenham and the Old Roan Chase at Aintree allowed some of that pent-up energy to be released. With a winner at Cheltenham on Friday and Allmankind’s seasonal debut at Aintree today, there was an indication of the latent firepower shortly to be released from the Alcester championship challenger.

Friday was the first day’s racing with any sort of crowd at Cheltenham since the infamous 2020 Festival, which brought the course plenty of brickbats given the level of infections that ensued afterwards as the first of our three lockdowns came about. Some 10,000 attended for what amounted to a normal day’s racing, although hand sanitiser and the odd mask were still in evidence. The overpowering atmosphere though was one of relief that racing can once again be enjoyed in the bucolic surroundings of Jump racing’s headquarters.

Even at this early stage in the autumn season, conversations are already hinting at March, and Third Time Lucki, last seen beaten 3 1/4l and 14 1/2l respectively behind Belfast Banter in the County Hurdle and Top Novices and the Festival and Aintree, did nothing to dispel such speculation with an impeccable chasing debut in the squareintheair Novices Chase over the minimum trip. 8 1/2l separated him from Irish challenger Buddy Rich, one of several runners from Gordon Elliott, at the line. His owner Andrew Newbould has the patience of Job, seemingly; he’s waited 30 years for a Cheltenham winner, and his horse is now quoted as short as 14/1 for the Arkle.

It looks like Skelton’s other winner of the weekend may skirt Cheltenham in March and endeavour to repeat today’s success in the Melling Chase at Aintree. Allmankind, winner of 4 races in his novice season including the Grade I Henry VIII Chase at Sandown, showed his liking for an extended trip in the Old Roan Chase over 2m 4f, beating fellow Warwickshire trainer Olly Murphy’s Itchy Feet by a length. There are further big races in store for both of these for certain.

Olly Murphy didn’t leave Aintree empty-handed however. French-bred Mackelduff, under Aiden Coleman, kept on strongly to win the £20,000 Jewson Wallasey Handicap Hurdle by 3 1/4l from Pouding Poet from Tom Lacey’s, and looks capable enough to win again.

Stratford may be winding down to its conclusion, but in every other sphere, the sport is girding up to full momentum.

Scholfield advertises his ability with quick double

There was further evidence of the gathering momentum of the Jumps season at Stratford on Saturday, one of three Jumps fixtures to take place for the first time since April. The sixty-one horse turnout was a reflection of Stratford’s ability to produce consistent good ground in a month when rain has been in short supply.

You can set your watch by the seasonality of Nigel Twiston-Davies, who always excels in the autumn months, capitalizing on the early season prizes before the heavyweights whose owners have deeper pockets take to the stage. This highly successful but understated yard in Naunton is a bellwether of the sport, producing result after result, and Saturday’s card was typical, with a brace of winners, ridden by Nick Scholfield and Zac Baker.

Four year old Ballintubber Boy broke his duck in the opening Jo Huxtable Birthday Celebration National Hunt Maiden Hurdle for the finish of the day, but it looked like hard work for horse and rider. Handy throughout, he was under pressure down the back straight from two out, and didn’t look like he was going to reach the front. Scholfield’s persistence counted however, as he got alongside Harde Fashion in the final 150 yards, winning by just a neck. Let’s hope such a hard race doesn’t leave its mark on the four year old.

Twiston-Davies was successful again in another birthday anniversary race, when One Forty Seven won the Paul Sheldon 75th Birthday Celebration Handicap Chase for a remarkable third time in another close finish that could have gone any of three ways for the last 200 yards. Remarkably, this 0-120 chase has only ever been won by the Twiston-Davies yard in four runnings since 2018. The tussle between Seamus Mullins’ Romanor, Richard Newland’s Makka Pakka and the winner was a real humdinger, with One Forty Seven making up five lengths after the last to win close home. Distances of 3/4l and a neck would have you believe that the result could have easily been different but for one horse’s memory of a race that is his by right. Horses for Courses is a phrase made for One Forty Seven.

Nick Scholfield continued his rehabilitation to the mainstream after injury laid him out for much of last season with his 24th winner of the term in the second, making a quickfire double, and once again showed why this freelance is in demand with a forceful finish on Kilcrest Moon in the William Hill Pick Your Places Handicap Hurdle. the winner, showing improved form, was the subject of an enquiry to which Oliver reported the horse had stripped fitter than previously and was dropping slightly in trip. at an SP of 10/1, there was certainly little evidence that connections had benefited strongly.

Kilchrest Moon and Nick Scholfield [right] jumps the last with Alramz before winning at Stratford. 16/10/2021 Pic Steve Davies

On a day of birthday races, it was septuagenarian John Spearing who prevailed in the Beryl’s Birthday Bash Mares Handicap Hurdle with a length win by Pillar Of Steel under Jamie Moore over Triple Nickle. The six year old has enjoyed a remarkable summer with five victories, outdoing the handicapper on each occasion, starting way back at Worcester in June. Spearing has little to prove nowadays, but horses who win five times in a season are always a joy to train.

Pillar Of Steel and Jamie Moore winning at Stratford. 16/10/2021 Pic Steve Davies

This has been a year when the ability of our women riders has been highlighted by the likes of Rachael Blackmore, but the reality remains that little more than 10% of our professional riders are women. The talents of the fairer sex were well illustrated in the closing Jackie Bates Female Jockeys Handicap Hurdle, when Tabitha Worsely notched her sixth winner of the season and 35th in all when racing away to an 8l victory on Amelia’s Dance for Robert Walford. Tabitha, a graduate from the Point-to-Point ranks, is another in a growing posse of girl riders that threatens to force racecourses to enlarge their women’s changing rooms.

Rebel Leader picked up a second consecutive chase win in the 2m6f Philip Smith Handicap Chase after a sustained duel with Max Young’s Orchestrated from the fourth last. Both horses looked tired racing around the final bend, but it was Richard Newland’s horse that stayed on most strongly to record a 2 1/2l win and the Newland stable’s 30th of the term.

Selling races are few and far between nowadays, but they provide both a varied spectacle and a chance to pick up a winning racehorse cheaply in the post-race auction. And so it proved after Aiden Coleman brought home Al Kherb a well-backed 1/1/2l winner of the Gary Hill Stag Do Selling Hurdle for trainer John Quinn. The winner raised £7,500 afterwards, with Fort l’Ocean also claimed, more than justifying the inclusion of the race for the racecourse.

Four Skelton horses to follow this winter

Visitors to Stratford are well used to seeing Dan Skelton’s horses come to the venue and plunder the spoils. The trainer has a fine record here, and he has continued that fine tradition with wins across the summer and early autumn, including last Monday with Too Friendly, ridden by brother Harry.

While Skelton has tasted plenty of success across the UK, there are some standout names in his stable. And with the jumps season upon us, we pick out four that are well worth following in the from the autumn right through to Cheltenham and beyond in the spring:

My Drogo

The horse that is arguably causing the most stir in Skelton’s stable, My Drogo has been called the “most exciting Skelton prospect” by Racing TV. My Drogo went four from four over hurdles last season, including a huge win in the Grade 1 Mersey Novices’ Hurdle at Aintree. That’s got tongues wagging over his potential when switching to fences this season. But Skelton is certainly taking a wait and see approach. The Racing Post called the plans for My Drogo “fluid”, and the trainer himself called for caution before fans get too ahead of themselves. He did mention the Marsh Novices’ Chase at Cheltenham as a possibility, however. And Skelton seems to agree with the assessment that the attributes are there for My Drogo to be a Gold Cup chance one day.

Shan Blue

It never really happened for Shan Blue last spring. Hopes were high after an assertive win in the Grade 1 Kauto Star Novices’ Chase at Kempton on Boxing Day, but coming up against Chantry House in the Marsh Novices’ Chase (Cheltenham) and Mildmay Novices’ Chase (Aintree) – Shan Blue was thumped by 32 lengths in the latter – was too tall an order. Pundits expect the 7yo to have a tilt at the Charlie Hall Chase at Wetherby later this month. Perform well there, and you can guarantee there will be a lot of buzz about Shan Blue’s chances in the King George VI Chase, a stated target according to Skelton. 888 Sport’s ante-post horse racing odds have Shan Blue down as a 33/1 shot for the King George – expect that price to tumble should Shan Blue look well in the Charlie Hall.  


Since moving to Skelton’s yard, Allmankind has seven wins from ten. But all three of his losses came at Cheltenham. There shouldn’t be too much read into that, however. Allmankind’s class is there for all to see, and lest we forget, the horse is still a 5yo. Moreover, there is a Cheltenham victory – back in November 2019 on his resumé. This season, you should expect to see him in action in the Old Roan Chase at Aintree in November. After that, it’s anyone’s guess. He’s doing the rounds on the ante-post markets for Cheltenham at 33/1 for the Champion Chase. But Skelton – never afraid to swerve the Festival if he feels it doesn’t fit – might have other plans.

Allmankind wins well at Sandown last December


Part-owned by Sir Alex Ferguson, Protektorat hinted at his class when delivering a (relatively) surprising victory in the Grade 1 Super Alloys Manifesto Novices’ Chase at Aintree in April. Skelton describes the horse as “a thinker”, and the trainer has grand plans for him. Expect a run at Carlisle in mid-October, and that will likely be followed by a trip to Cheltenham in November for the Grade 3 Paddy Power Gold Cup in November. As with Allmankind, there is no clear pathway to what happens next, but a good performance in the autumn will open many doors for Protektorat, and that’s one of the reasons he’s a horse worth watching this season.   

Who says mid-week crowds are poor? Stratford sets example for others to emulate

The results tallyboard for Monday’s card at Stratford took on a more familiar view as the big names of the sport flexed their muscles in preparation for Chepstow’s big prize money fixture this weekend that is the traditional launch of the autumn campaign.

Winners for Skelton, Twiston-Davies, Hobbs and Fergal O’Brien punctuated the meeting, with Evan Williams, Jamie Snowden and Chris Gordon also keeping their end up, watched by a large crowd of over 1,300 spectators. Proof, were it needed, that post Covid, the experiences market may allow racing to benefit from higher attendances now that people can get out and about freely once again.

Evan Williams has moved to new premises over the summer, and the largely dry autumn has, to date, kept his forays pretty limited. Less than half his anticipated volume of runners in September and October (to date) is largely a function of ground conditions, although there was no fault to be found with Stratford’s Monday Good To Soft ground.

But there was no mistaking the quality of finish from Howdyalikemenow in the opening Retraining of Racehorses Novices Hurdle, a comfortable 14l winner from Dan Skelton’s Jay Jay Reilly. In truth, there was but one horse in it from the fourth, and there’ll be more races to come from this admirable galloper.

As bellwethers of the sport go, you’ll find few better than Philip Hobbs, whose strike rate is consistently around 18-20%, and who has passed the £1m mark in win & place prize money in 6 of the last 8 seasons. If last season was less than vintage, this has as much to do with the Irish rout in March as being second bested by his peer group at home.

Irish – bred Canastero finally found the winning post at the ninth attempt when just getting up at the death in the Even Keel Foundation Handicap Hurdle. Too many finishes like that will bring on grey hair at the double.

There was an exciting finish to the Support the IJF Novices Handicap Chase, when Representing Bob, for Jamie Snowden’s Lambourn yard, overcame leader Give Me A Moment in the final 110 yards to produce a 24th winner of the term for Gavin Sheehan. In this week, when steeplechases have been thin on the ground, the other chase, for conditional riders, also produced good entertainment.

Representing Bob [left] wins at Stratford from Give Me A Moment. 4/10/2021 Pic Steve Davies

Winner Templehills, last a winner in mid October at this very course in 2020, came good once again when hitting the front under Jack Savage just before the last. Although less than foot perfect, he ran on well to score by 4 1/4l.

The remaining three races were all for youngsters, among which the most notable was Too Friendly, once a Derby Hope for Tim Gredley, now gelded and switched to a life with Dan Skelton. The Skelton team is another in no great hurry to get going this summer, but their winning presence at each of the past two Stratford fixtures is a sign that the behemoth is girding up once again.

Flat speed came into play as Too Friendly joined the leaders at the last, but he was less than foot perfect, and needed to persist to come out on top against Alan King’s Oceanline in the Stratford racecourse Supporting Racing Charities Juvenile Hurdle.

Too Friendly and Harry Skelton win at Stratford. 4/10/2021 Pic Steve Davies

Fergal O’Brien and Paddy Brennan kept up the pace at the head of the Trainers’ Championship when Samba Dancer ran out a 6l winner of the Novices’ Handicap Hurdle, whilst the concluding bumper, which attracted just 6 runners, fell to the 6/5 favourite, Chris Gordon’s Aucunrisque.

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