Dan Skelton’s success at the Cheltenham Festival has been somewhat sporadic, unlike his rivals with whom he will do battle for the major honours over four days next week. Willie Mullins, Henry de Bromhead, Nicky Henderson, Gordon Elliott, Colin Tizzard and Paul Nicholls will all have ambitions of securing the leading titles of the week, with the Irish contingent boasting a strong claim for seemingly every top race at the Festival.
However, Skelton has had a solid season with his best horses and could be in line to shock spectators across jumps racing by making a successful bid for the Gold Cup among others, which feature a number of intriguing prices in the Cheltenham betting 2022 options. Skelton has more than a decent shout in the signature event of the week in the Gold Cup with his charge Protektorat, laid out for the race. The bay gelding is considered one of the leading contenders in the Cheltenham Gold Cup tips behind A Plus Tard, Galvin and Minella Indo for the blue riband of the sport. To win the Gold Cup would be a significant breakthrough for Skelton to announce himself at the top table.
He has achieved victories in the Mares’ Hurdle and County Hurdle at Cheltenham Festival before, but a win for Protektorat would raise Skelton’s game immeasurably. The bay gelding has an outside chance after recording a win in the Many Clouds Chase at Aintree in December, hammering the rest of the field by 25 lengths, including former Gold Cup winner Native River, after which he was put away for the Spring. A Plus Tard, Galvin and Minella Indo are a step up in class, but Skelton can at least be confident that his charge can compete with the best in the business, and he will be fresh after a midwinter break that has seen him prepared specifically for this moment.
The Gold Cup is not the only race targeted by Skelton in pursuit of a successful Cheltenham. There are other opportunities for Skelton to pick up significant scalps outside of the Gold Cup. Third Time Lucki has been a solid operator over the course of the campaign and is an intended runner in the Arkle Chase. He was beaten by the race favourite Edwardstone in his last outing at Warwick in the Kingmaker Novices’ Chase and was previously off the pace in another contest against his rival in the Henry VIII Novices’ Chase at Sandown Park. However, Third Time Lucki does have two victories at Cheltenham Racecourse under his belt this term and merits a run in the Arkle Chase to upset the rest of the field.
Nube Negra finished just behind Put The Kettle On in the Champion Chase last season and will run again in the contest next week. The scale of the challenge has been increased by the presence of Shishkin and Energumene, who are expected to battle it out for the leading honours. Last year’s favourite Chacun Pour Soi is also present and will be out for redemption for Mullins. Skelton’s charge did beat a talented field in the Shloer Chase at Cheltenham in November, including last season’s Champion Chase winner, but was off the pace in his last race in the Tingle Creek Chase, finishing fourth. At odds of 14/1, he could be worth an outside chance given his record at the racecourse, but he will have to put in a sterling performance to defeat the hot favourites Shishkin and Energumene or hope for a mistake from both horses. However, in a race like the Champion Chase, one mistake is all it needs to lose the advantage. A foot perfect round could yet be enough to land the odds.
Skelton is well placed to make an impact at Cheltenham Festival, but he will need the rub of the green and brilliant displays from his charges to announce his arrival among the elite of the sport.