A string of Skelton trained Saturday feature races have brought the season to life, and with it, the Trainers’ Championship. For years, the fight has been two-sided at best, although Willie Mullins did promise to upset the applecart a few years back, taking the tussle with Nicky Henderson all the way to Sandown’s finale meeting. Skelton is a Champion Trainer in waiting; less a question of if, rather when.
Big race wins courtesy of Protektorat, who downed A Plus Tard in the Betfair Chase, Le Milos in the Coral Gold Cup, and last Saturday, Ashtown Lad over Aintree’s big fences in the Becher Chase, who could be aimed at the Grand National, have catapulted Skelton into second place in the Trainers’ table, little more than £100k behind his old boss, Paul Nicholls. Those looking to back Skelton’s chaser in the King George should consider Betfair’s welcome offer. New customers may be able to pick up £30 in free bets to use on the King George. To qualify for the promotion, users need to place a £10 opening bet on the sportsbook.
This has been a rapid ascent by any standards. Skelton is only in his tenth full season training, but a thorough grounding by Nicholls, the horsemanship skills of showjumper and Olympian medal winner father Nick, and riding talent from a brother he legged up to become champion in the 2020-21 season, have all synced into a compelling momentum.
Nicholls is the man to beat
To win his maiden Trainers’ Championship, Skelton must finish ahead of his former boss Paul Nicholls. The Ditcheat trainer lifted the trophy last season, and he leads the way in the current campaign after a strong start to his title defence.
Nicholls has two strong entries in this year’s King George which will come up against Skelton’s Protektorat. Bravemansgame and Hitman will both be saddled by the 12-time winner of the race.
With the likes of Greaneteen, Frodon, Stage Star, Monmiral, Clan Des Obeaux and Gelino Bello also in his yard, Nicholls has another strong stable this season. He will be targeting all the major races around the Christmas period, while at the Cheltenham Festival, he will be in contention for many of the 28 races across the four days.
But Skelton has strong backing for the Championship
To date, 49 individual winners have contributed to Skelton’s seasonal tally of 59, but unlike a few seasons ago, Skelton has eschewed the early season fixtures, preferring to aim for higher quality animals capable of toppling the established ranks. It’s no easy task. The West Country stables of Nicholls and Berkshire fortress that is Seven Barrows have owners with deep pockets, and in spades. However, the policy is working.
Heavyweight owners like Ged Mason and Sir Alex Ferguson, Darren and Annaley Yates and J P McManus all now have horses at the Alcester centre of racing excellence. These are folk invested in success at the elite level. Look among this year’s winners and you will find 16 rated over 140, the basic minimum to qualify for any of the 28 races at the Cheltenham Festival. But that number doesn’t allow for the novices and bumper horses that are the new blood of every aspirant yard.
And there’s plenty of talent yet to score. Precocious novice chaser of last season Third Time Lucki, and Imperial Cup winner Langer Dan, have yet to add to the scoresheet, whilst Shloer Chase winner Nube Negra has a real fight on his hands in the Two Mile division with the emergence of Edwardstone, Saturday’s Tingle Creek victor. My Drogo, Allmankind and Shan Blue have all yet to show their hand.
Much of a trainer’s talent is not so much in preparing the equine athletes under their tutelage, but in placing them to best effect, as well, of course, as managing owner expectations. The strength in depth at the Skelton yard offers comfort that there is always another highly rated horse ready to take the place of one on the downgrade. Fuelled by the wealth of owners within the game, and on the doorstep of the country’s second city, that expectation that Skelton will go all the way by April 2023 is tangible.
Nothing could make us prouder in Warwickshire than the success of one of our own.