Dan Skelton Could Be Set For A Big Cheltenham Festival

Warwickshire-based trainer Dan Skelton is on course for one of his best seasons as a trainer. He remains in contention for a maiden Trainers’ Championship, and he is set to go into the Cheltenham Festival with a strong team of horses.

Here is a look at some of his best chances of the 2024 Cheltenham Festival meeting.

Protektorat – Cheltenham Gold Cup

The Cheltenham Gold Cup is the race at the Cheltenham Festival that all owners and trainers dream of winning. It is the feature race of the week, and also the most lucrative. As the assistant trainer to Paul Nicholls, Skelton was involved in the success both Kauto Star and Denman enjoyed in the race between 2007 and 2009.

Now with a licence of his own, Skelton’s best chance of Gold Cup success this year comes through Protektorat, a horse part-owned by former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson. 

Skelton’s chaser finished third in the race in 2022, while last March, the British horse came home in fifth place. As of the 17th of January, he is 40/1 in the Cheltenham Festival odds to prevail in the latest renewal of the Blue Riband contest.

The nine-year-old won one of the leading Grade I races in his division at Haydock last season. If he reproduces that form at Cheltenham, he could be a major player in the business end of the contest again, especially if the racecourse going is ‘Soft’ during the week of the Festival, as his best form comes on ground with give in it, but he came out worst in a prep against l’Homme Pressé in the Fleur de Lys Chase at Lingfield this month, so there may be alternative options. 

Grey Dawning – Brown Advisory Chase

Novice chaser Grey Dawning took a big step forward last time out at Warwick when he won the Grade II Hampton Novices’ Chase. He was faultless in that race, scoring by 14 lengths to put himself in the picture for some of the leading novice chases at the Cheltenham Festival.

Grey Dawning has entries in both the Brown Advisory Novices’ and Turners Novices’ Chase, but given how well he fared over 3m, the former of those two options looks the most likely.
Skelton will be keeping a close eye on the fixture list over the weeks before the Cheltenham Festival. The seven-year-old could have his first shot at a Grade I chase in the Scilly Isles Novices’ Chase at Sandown in February. Gerri Colombe won that race last season and is now a Cheltenham Gold Cup contender. Skelton will be hoping his horse can follow the same path. 

Langer Dan – Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys Handicap Hurdle

This year is set to be Langer Dan’s fifth appearance at the Cheltenham Festival. The hurdler has consistently fared well at the meeting. He finished second behind Galopin Des Champs in the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle in 2021, while last season, he claimed his first success at the meeting.

Langer Dan is set to have multiple entries at this year’s Festival and Skelton will decide on which race he participates in closer to the meeting. The Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle may represent his best chance of success this year. He is now racing off an official mark of 141, which is just 6lb higher than when he was second in the race.

Nube Negra – Queen Mother Champion Chase

In 2021, Nube Negra was less than a length away from winning the Queen Mother Champion Chase, one of the four Championship races at the Cheltenham Festival. In what was a close finish to the day two feature contest, he finished second behind Put The Kettle On.

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The two-time Shloer Chaser winner has an excellent record at Cheltenham and his connections will be encouraged by his latest performance on the track, as he was second behind Editeur Du Gite in the Desert Orchid Handicap Chase at Kempton.

The Queen Mother Champion Chase looks set to be one of the strongest races of the week this year, as last season’s Arkle winner El Fabiolo, leading British 2m chaser Jonbon and Dinoblue are all expected to feature. Skelton still believes his horse can be competitive in this race, as he bids to go one place better than he did in 2021.

Skelton has had four Cheltenham Festival winners to date in his career. With the runners he has this year, he will be very disappointed if he does not add to that tally across the four days.

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