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.

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.

Rain no dampener on our Sunday party

The damp Spring has resulted in excellent fields at the Jumps fixtures in April to date – there were 163 runners over Cheltenham’s two day fixture last week and the Scottish National fixture was also well supported. No surprise then to see 79 runners assemble on Good to Soft ground for our first Sunday fixture of the summer season.

For many trainers, this is an opportunity for the season to wind down. With just Sandown’s fixture on Saturday among the UK-centric high value cards to go, the top yards are sending the better horses off on holidays.

However, there are plenty of horses whose destiny is not to grace Grade I courses each Saturday, but which can find a winning theme at country venues like Stratford, proving the old adage that every horse has his day.

Kim Eyre might be one such horse, trained in south Wales by Evan Williams. With an official rating of just 94, the likes of Cheltenham aren’t even plugged into the horse’s satnav, but he was game enough to score a first victory in 10 runs under Rules, when snatching victory from the likeable grey Cardboard Gangster just lengths from the line in the 3m3f Handicap Chase, under the trainer’s daughter Isobel.

Don’t discard Cardboard Gangster from reversing placings however. This was a first run in 6 months or so for D J Jeffreys, and he will shape fitter next time. There’s certainly a race in him in the next few months too.

Kym Eyre and Isabel Williams [right] jumps the last behind leader Carboard Gangster before winning at Stratford. 23/4/2023 Pic Steve Davies

Scudamore is a name rarely off our lips in recent weeks, after the excitements of Aintree hero Corach Rambler. Scudamore the horse has also been playing his part, and produced a turn of speed to deliver a 6l winning distance in the Bet at Racingtv.com Novices Handicap Hurdle under Lewis Stones for Jennie Candlish. The flat recruit, winner of three races over 1m4f+ on the flat, has taken a few runs to find his feet over hurdles, but showed an excellent turn of foot here to break his duck.

The mares programme across the UK has been a great success story for the sport, enabling a broader cross-section of horses to compete, and stimulating the British market for race brood mares. 89 mares participated in Cheltenham’s all mares card on Thursday, and there were 9 runners for the Mary Kendrick Memorial Hurdle here too, which produced our best finish of the day. Eventual winner Minelladestination can consider herself lucky to have prevailed by a neck under Peter Kavanagh for Donald McCain. In another stride, the neck winning distance would have been reversed with second-placed Born To Please. More finishes like this and we’ll be clutching for the blood pressure tablets.

Warren Greatrex trains in Upper Lambourn from Weathercock House, a yard that has sent out hundreds of top flight winners. Greatrex looks to be emerging from a few torrid years in the doldrums. A winner at Aintree last week gave a welcome fillip to a yard short of quality since the heady days of 2016-19, and that sense of momentum was given a further boost when Jonjo O’Neill Jnr booted home Line of Descent 1 1/4l ahead of Post No Bills in the David Spencer 60th Birthday Novices Handicap Chase over 2m3f. Greatrex and wife Tessa, part of the Highflyer Bloodstock team, must be hoping to have turned the corner once again in the archly competitive sport we all follow.

Line Of Descent and Jonjo O’Neill [left] wins at Stratford from Post No Bills. 23/4/2023 Pic Steve Davies

The opening Maiden Hurdle divided, producing a welcome winner for another yard which has found winners hard to come by. Jake Coulson, former amateur rider who embarked on a training career in 2017, welcomed his first winner in a shade under a year when Forever A Dove landed odds of 14/1 in the second division, under Toby Wynne.

Winners are an altogether more familiar sight for winning trainer in division one, Fergal O’Brien, who has posted a personal best this year, Carrigeen Kampala being his 138th winner, ridden by Liam Harrison. O’Brien announced last week he was dissolving his partnership with Graeme McPherson, but it seems unlikely this small setback will slow up his progress. McPherson, on the other hand, may yet return to training under his own name.

Fiona Needham is a name better known in racing circles as Clerk of Course at Catterick, but she’s no slouch with her own Pointers and Hunter chasers. 7 year old Sine Nomine looks like he might develop into a candidate for the John Corbett Cup here at the beginning of June with a comprehensive trouncing of 4 others in the concluding Jumping For Fun Grassroots Open Hunters Chase under John Dawson.

Will it be Rachael Blackmore’s Festival a second time?

In this March’s Boodles Cheltenham Gold Cup, Rachel Blackmore will defend her crown after a spectacular win in 2022. Starting the race as the favourite, she rode the seven-year-old A Plus Tard to a memorable triumph. Returning to the fold on the same mount, we discuss her chances at this year’s event.

A Plus Tard

Trained by Henry de Bromhead, in 2022 A Plus Tard pipped previous winners Minella Indo and Protektorat in third. This year, the horse remains up there with the favourites. In the Cheltenham betting A Plus Tard is generously priced at 8/1. If there are any concerns, it would only be that the horse has run very little since last year’s win. A single run in the Betfair Chase at Haydock in November left the de Bromhead team much deflated after a below-par run behind Protektorat. That horse has also been beaten since, and other contenders have appeared, like Galopin des Champs and Conflated for the Irish, and Bravemansgame for the home team.

The French-bred A Plus Tard has shown considerable talent for trainer Henry De Bromhead. The horse was a consistent performer in his early career, winning several maiden and novice races in France including first place in two out of three first-year races. He then moved to run in the UK and Ireland, where he won several graded races. While a favourite, he is not the only horse Henry de Bromhead is likely to have among the Cheltenham tips, as one of this trainer’s favoured outings. 

In 2020, he showed consistent improvement in form, ending the year with a win at Leopardstown. The next year saw a win at Haydock in November with two more second places, before his win in March at Cheltenham.  As any race enthusiast will know, the Cheltenham Gold Cup is one of the most important races in the calendar and both Blackmore and Henry de Bromhead will be looking to get A Plus Tard back to the scene of his greatest triumph in peak form.

Previous winners

The Gold Cup was first run in 1924, and since then it has been won by some of the most famous horses in steeplechasing history. Horses that have won over the years include Golden Miller, Arkle, Best Mate and Denman. The recent record for the most wins by a horse is held by Best Mate, who won the race in 2002, 2003, and 2004. Arkle won the race three times in a row from 1964 to 1966 and the last two-year consecutive winner was Al Boum Photo. If A Plus Tard returns to form for this year, it can be easy to see the stable chasing the three-time win with a horse so young and full of promise. 

While the Gold Cup is the main event at the Cheltenham Festival, there are many other top-class races in the four-day meeting. Other Grade 1 races at the event include the Champion Hurdle, the Queen Mother Champion Chase, and the Stayers’ Hurdle providing a full meeting of action. De Bromhead is a realist; after his dream treble in 2022, a single winner would be as much as he can hope for. 2022 capped a terrific season when Honeysuckle, Put The Kettle On and A Plus Tard each won their respective Champion Hurdle, Champion Chase and Gold Cup. Each race at the Festival offers the best horse in their class and are worth your time and effort. Check your odds, get the best prices, and enjoy watching the best racing the world has to offer.

Nicholls on the Festival comeback trail

When you think of Paul Nicholls, the mind is instantly drawn back to his superstar horses Kauto Star, Denman, Master Minded, and See More Business, to name just a few. The master trainer swept up all around him when it came to the season’s biggest races back then, with superstars winning pretty much every Grade 1 race on the calendar.

Since then, however, the 12-time Champion trainer has struggled to find horses anywhere near as talented as that team of legends. Nicholls hasn’t won a Gold Cup since 2009 or a Champion Hurdle since 2012, albeit that he has made the King George at Kempton his own through Frodon, Clan des Obeaux and this year’s performance by Bravemansgame. The paucity of success at the Festival however is scarcely credible when you think of his former embarras de richesse

He has even started to bypass the Cheltenham Festival in recent years, instead waiting for the Aintree Grand National meeting the following month.

Ditcheat has found another gear

But times are changing at Nicholls’ Ditcheat stables this season. He has started to form a formidable squad full of talented young horses now ready to take on the best in the game. Betting markets and the latest betting tips are now full of Nicholls runners, including Bravemansgame with odds of 9/1 for the Gold Cup and Greaneteen available at 16/1 for the Champion Chase. Could it be time for the trainer to hit the summit of National Hunt racing once again at the meeting where it all counts?

Horses such as Bravemansgame and Greaneteen have put the Ditcheat stable back in the limelight this season with their Grade 1 successes and, with the Cheltenham Festival now fast approaching, it must be an exciting time for everyone involved with team Nicholls.

The new star squad


Bravemansgame is Nicholls’ new stable star. A Grade 1 winner as a hurdler, the 8-year-old has come into his own since being sent chasing, winning six of his seven starts. Two of those successes have come at the top level, most recently a 14-length win in the King George VI Chase at Kempton at Christmas.

He is still progressing at a rate of knots over the larger obstacles and has earned a tilt at this season’s Boodles Cheltenham Gold Cup. Will he prove to be as good as Nicholls’ heroes of the past? We will find out in March.


Another current star of the Ditcheat stable is the Queen Mother Champion Chase hopeful, Greaneteen. Like Bravemansgame, Greaneteen has proved to be a far better chaser than hurdler and has been particularly impressive this season with his Haldon Gold Cup win and second-place performance in the Tingle Creek.

He is currently being overlooked in the betting markets for the Champion Chase but he has all the attributes needed for a race of that nature and shouldn’t be disregarded as an also-ran.

With the likes of Pic D’Ohry (Ryanair Chase), Frodon (Gold Cup), and Hermes Allen (Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle) also among Nicholls’ strong Cheltenham squad, this could prove to be a comeback year for the Champion trainer at the sport’s Holy of Holies.

Seeing these Cheltenham classics without a Nicholls runner over the past few years has been disappointing. There hasn’t been enough home-bred opposition to prevent a trouncing by Willie Mullins and Gordon Elliott. Together, Nicholls and Henderson present the best chance of rebalancing the old Anglo-Irish rivalry, and Nicholls old adversary in Lambourn also has some impressive firepower. But this is the strongest team Paul Nicholls has possessed since the heady days of Kauto Star and Denman. 

If they prove to be half as good as those two, then the future is bright at Ditcheat.

A lesson from Down Under: the All-Star Mile

Racing is in a fairly healthy position in the UK right now, particularly given the challenges of running a sport without spectators for large chunks of the last couple of years. Even allowing for a spate of small fields exacerbated by the low rainfall over the past few months, the sport retains a broad appeal across over 1,400 fixtures each year. But last month, the Racing Post launched a series of special reports under the banner, How Can Racing Broaden Its Appeal? And one of the key takeaways from the series of articles was that “Getting people involved is a major challenge for the sport.”

Of course, we have been here before. Each time there is a momentous performance on television – say, Rachael Blackmore’s heroics at Cheltenham and the Grand National – analysts talk about how it can drive engagement and appeal. Of course, it’s all well and good when saying these things after the Festival or Royal Ascot, but does it encourage people to attend the racing on a cold December night at Chelmsford? Or Stratford, for that matter, on the infrequent occasions when the sun is not warming our backs?

All-Star Mile has driven fan engagement

But there are ideas from outside the box that can drive fan engagement. An example is the All-Star Mile, which had its inaugural running in 2019 at Flemington Racecourse, the iconic home of Australian racing. If you aren’t familiar with the All-Star Mile, the main thing to know is that participation is largely decided by racing fans. To be exact, ten places in the races are allotted to horses who are voted in by fans. Five wild cards make up the rest of field. Of course, a bumper purse is offered to ensure owners are persuaded to let their horses run.

Zaaki, winner of the All-Star Mile 2022. Photo via https://twitter.com/allstarmile/status/1505047224132472834/photo/1

Now, if you really know your international racing, you might be aware that the Aussies nicked this idea from the Japanese. The fan-voted Arima Kinen race has been operating in Japan in some form or another since 1956. But the reason we chose the Australian version is that it shows how a good idea can ferment into popular culture quite quickly. Indeed, we would argue that the All-Star Mile has become a more engaging spectacle than The Everest, which was created in 2017 and is now the world’s richest turf race.

Perhaps our point is that the All-Star Mile is an example of where ingenuity trumps money. The Everest is a brilliant event, and it attracts some of the best sprinters in racing who look for a share of the £10million+ purse.

Race is rotated around Victoria

But the All-Star Mile attracts the casual fan, and one way it does this is through astute use of social media campaigning. The campaign reaches out to casual fans and potential fans, encouraging them to feel like they have a stake in the event. Indeed, before the 2022 race, TAB (Australia’s version of the Tote) ran a competition where one voter could become an “ambassador owner” of one of the horses selected for the race.

Another thing we like about the All-Star Mile is the fact it rotates. We mentioned Flemington earlier, but it will also go to Victoria’s other great venues, Moonee Valley and Caulfield. If such a principle was applied to the UK, there is no end of worthy venues that could host fan-voted races, including, of course, Stratford Racecourse. Imagine a concept like this through the Summer Jumps calendar at Stratford, Worcester, Perth and Newton Abbot.

Now, none of this is to say that UK racing should simply borrow the idea from the Australians (and Japanese), but it is the kind of concept that could yield dividends. One of the barriers to engagement with horse racing is the feeling that it is remote, particularly for those from urban areas. Campaigns like the All-Star Mile tear down those barriers through digital access on social media. The connection is there between fans and the selections in the race.

Something to think about.

Hillview is a cut above

Hillview provided the most facile victory of the day yesterday in recording his fourth win of the campaign, and third within a month, in Stratford’s Savage & Stride Wedding Celebration Handicap Hurdle. The Irish-bred gelding, a winner previously at Bangor and Southwell (twice), notched up a 31st winner of the term for Cheshire handler Gary Hanmer, and there won’t have been many easier.

By contrast, the winner of the opener, Kinondu Kwetu, had to work rather harder to assert over long time leader Starsky from the powerful Skelton yard. The false pace of a three runner field made the race a sprint from the last, where the Sam Engkand trained winner was able to apply speed to overcome Starsky.

Morganstern was further confirmation of the in-form status of Somerset’s David Pipe when winning the Claudio’s 50th Birthday Novices Handicap Chase by 2 1/2l from Arbennig. This was the second leg of a cross-card double for Pipe following Neon Moon’s victory at Wincanton. Remarkably, the stable is running on a 40% strike rate over the past fortnight. Statisticians take note.

Anthony Honeyball has emerged to be a fearsome competitor in the middle ranks of the Trainers’ Championship. Fresh from winning a valuable handicap at Aintree on Grand National day, he followed up here with a horse of rather less ability. Midnight Callisto always had her rivals in hand and ran out a convincing winner of the Mares Handicap Hurdle for a 35th winner of the season for Honeyball.

A disappointing run from Snow Leopardess in the Randox Grand National wasn’t enough to knock the momentum from the Charlie Longsdon stable. Largy Nights and Kingston King fought out a tug of war for the lead from the final bend, neither excelling in jumping the last in the 3m3f Handicap Chase. However, it was Largy Nights who stayed on more dourly to win by 1 1/2l.

Largy Nights wins at Stratford for the Longsdon stable 10/4/2022 Pic Steve Davies

On a weekend when the amateurs of the game demonstrated their contribution to the sport in spectacular style through Sam Waley-Cohen’s Grand National victory on Noble Yeats, it was another accomplished amateur who snaffled the Stratford Grass Roots Hunters Chase, the last of our chases. Picking off the leader Tel ‘Art as they rounded the final bend, owner-trained and ridden Peacock’s Secret under Dale Peters ran on to be a convincing victor, and may well return here on May 31st for the Finale Hunters evening. The 14l margin could readily have been over 20.

Peacocks Secret wins at Stratford for Dale Peters. 10/4/2022 Pic Steve Davies

All the extra accoutrements seemed to work for Mickyh as tongue strap and blinkers kept the 9 year old up to his work under a forceful ride from Jamie Moore in the Bet at Racingtv.com Novices Handicap Hurdle. The second, Justified, stayed on resolutely, and there is a race for him somewhere.

Can Blaklion make one last great Grand National effort?

Dan Skelton and his team had a solid week at Cheltenham Festival, although a winner eluded the trainer. Protektorat put forward a fine performance in the Boodles Cheltenham Gold Cup, but could not match the pace of A Plus Tard from the last, finishing third behind a Henry de Bromhead one-two with Minella Times in second.

Skelton will now turn his attention to the Aintree Festival next week where he will attempt to pull off a shock to disrupt the potential for further Irish dominance of the major races in the National Hunt calendar. Blaklion is the best option from Skelton’s yard for a bet on Grand National 2022 at 66/1, although it would be a remarkable performance considering the age of the horse. It would be a surprise to see the 13-year-old top the Grand National results 2022 as the last horse of that age to win the event was Sergeant Murphy in 1923, and there are only three cases of competitors 13 or over who have won the National. None of these victories have occurred in the modern era, and the last six winners of the event have been under the age of 10. Nonetheless, records are there to be broken.

Blaklion was a strong contender at the peak of his powers under the tenure of Nigel Twiston-Davies. In 2017, he went to post as favourite at 8/1 for the National, but was beaten by One For Arthur. Blaklion returned as one of the top horses in the field for the 2018 race, but luck was not on his side as he was brought down at the first fence by a falling rival. The horse changed into the hands of new owners Darren & Annaley Yates in 2019 after he missed the Grand National, and was eventually passed into the yard of Skelton after a brief stint with Philip Kirby.

He was off the pace in his first races under Skelton’s charge, putting forward underwhelming outings at Ascot, Warwick and Newcastle before the 2021 Grand National. Although he was a 50/1 outsider, he still raced competitively at Aintree and finished sixth, which was more than a respectable performance from the veteran.

Blaklion has found his form over the course of the 2021/22 season after a slow start. He and the rest of the field were well beaten by Snow Leopardess at Bangor-on-Dee in November. However, he was on song to claim his first victory in five years, triumphing at Haydock Park in the Altrincham Veterans’ Handicap Chase. Skelton’s charge made it two wins out of two with a dominant display in the Last Fling Handicap Chase, finishing 28 lengths ahead of his nearest rival The Two Amigos.

He was unable to sustain his form in his last outing in the Grand National Trial Handicap Chase as he was pulled up four fences from the end of the contest, although only three horses completed the race in heavy conditions.

The 13-year-old does have a semblance of momentum and could be ready for one last great effort to etch his place in the history books. Aintree brought out the best in him some years back, and many horses approach Aintree very differently to park courses. It would be a remarkable achievement for all concerned, and running into a place again would be a feather in the cap of Team Skelton.

We’re off again!

Glorious spring sunshine heralded another season’s racing at Stratford this afternoon, the first horses to have appeared on the course since the adieu in November, and 51 horses faced the starter for an entertaining afternoon, a precursor to a feast of top quality Jump racing over the next five days.

Horses take the new white boarded hurdles for the first time in the country on a racecourse at Stratford. 14/3/2022 Pic Steve Davies/Racingfotos.com

For the quick-minded, the reference to five days is not an onward wave to a fifth day of the Festival, but an acknowledgement that there are now superb cards catering for the less than utterly brilliant at Uttoxeter and Kempton that illustrate that our sport is not all about one venue and 28 races. Horses, owners, trainers and riders all have their preferences, which is what makes our sport so rich in variety.

Festival fever allowed for a healthy crowd on this sunny afternoon, bolstered by early travellers from across the Irish Sea. If the Cheltenham roar was absent from the start of the first race of the season, it was yet more muted as Tommie O’Brien brought home Getaway Luv a 3 3/4l winner of the opening Novices Handicap Chase for owner/trainer Clive Boultbee-Brooks. This family operation in Herefordshire has just a handful of horses in training but a 60% strike rate testifies to some sound knowledge of where to place one’s horses.

The output from trainers named Williams in the UK is due to reduce this summer as the likeable Nick Williams ups sticks to expand his stable in France too. He has made a terrific contribution to the Jumps scene, not least with offspring named de Sivola, and produced another in the second, a Juvenile Hurdle, where Interne de Sivola outpaced Silver Shade, diverting from a Triumph Hurdle option to win by 2 1/4l.

There’s a keen rivalry between Nick and his former spouse Jane, who trains from the same premises. The glue that holds them together is the burgeoning career of their son Chester, who rode his step-father’s horse in the second, and made for a quickfire double for mother in the Bobby Brown Retiral Handicap Chase 30 minutes later on Esprit de Samoza. He had to pull out all the stops in a driving finish, in which runner-up Corran Cross lost nothing in defeat.

Esprit De Somoza [left] jumps the last to win at Stratford. 14/3/2022 Pic Steve Davies

Oakley showed a clean pair of heels to the opposition in the feature handicap hurdle, drawing clear two out and galloping to the line despite a renewed challenge from second-placed Osprey Call. The winner weas returning to winning ways for the first time since January 2019, and continued a good run of form for Hampshire-based Richard Bandey with this Philip Hobbs cast-off.

There was a close finish to the pointtopoint.co.uk Novices Hunter Chase where a decent field showed why Stratford continues to appeal to the grass roots of the sport. In recent months, hunter chase fields have rarely exceeded 6 runners, but 10 faced the starter, and there were two in it at the last. Drake’s Well, ridden by Alice Stephens, had been overtaken, but Jaunty’s Well pecked on landing, allowing Stephens to assert under a driving finish, to win by 1 1/4l.

Olly Murphy is still looking for a first Festival winner, but Ukantango flew the flag for the yard in the concluding bumper, winning on the fence as Aiden Coleman scraped the paint all the way round. He was well supported on this debut under Rules.

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.

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.   

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