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.