Stratford specialists the Skeltons to lead the fightback against Irish dominance at racing’s top table

According to the extensive database collected by Timeform, no duo in horse racing is quite as effective at Stratford as Dan and Harry Skelton.

Dan, the elder of the brothers, has trained 35 winners from his 167 runners at the course according to the stats – nearly double that of his nearest rival. Incredibly, more than one in three Skelton entries either wins or is placed at Stratford. We should mention his younger sibling Harry too. He has ridden 31 winners in the same timeframe – a success rate of 25%, with 38% of his rides at the track ending in victory or at least a place.

He claimed the Champion Jockey crown in 2021, landing 152 winners in a prolific campaign, and the hope for British racing fans is that the Skeltons can spearhead a return to the glory days for domestic runners at the Cheltenham Festival.

At the most recent edition of the flagship meeting, just four of the 28 races were won by a British horse. The Irish, on the other hand, claimed 23 victories.

There are plenty of different explanations as to why that might be, with the Irish bred and trained purposefully for the big meetings at Cheltenham, Punchestown, and the like. Meanwhile, some British trainers and owners prefer to focus on the nitty-gritty of the National Hunt campaign.

Either way, take Nicky Henderson’s haul out of the roll call of winners and it really does make for dismal reading for the domestic entries.

Getting Closer

The Skeltons have some excellent horses at their disposal, and a couple got close at the 2021 Festival.

Roksana was third in the Close Brothers’ Mares Hurdle, and ran superbly at Aintree a few weeks later to finish second in the Stayers’ Hurdle at Aintree. Available at 10/1 in the Cheltenham Stayers’ Hurdle odds for 2022 here at Space Casino, she could bring the Skeltons a rare success at the Festival.

But for a stumble late on, they could have been celebrating a win in the Queen Mother Champion Chase. Their Spanish horse, Nube Negra, ran superbly well in the two-mile outing, and stayed on despite a fumble to finish just half a length behind the winner, Put the Kettle On.

The seven-year-old still has room for development, and victory in the Desert Orchid Chase – defeating Altior by three lengths in the process – was an outstanding effort.

Elle Est Belle secured another place for the Skeltons in the Champion Bumper back in March. The five-year-old is already a course winner, and produced an excellent effort to finish behind the more experienced Sir Gerhard and Kilcruit at the Festival. With another year of action under her saddle, Elle Est Belle could be another profitable campaigner at Cheltenham for the duo.

Other contenders will emerge as well, you suspect, with the likes of Langer Dan also promising a bright future. For the prosperity of British racing, the hope is that the Skeltons will lead a Warwickshire fightback against Irish racing dominance – starting with the Cheltenham Festival in 2022.

First time visitor to Stratford? Here’s your startpoint

Otherwise known as the Stratford-on-Avon Racecourse, Stratford is one of the most well-known racecourses in the UK. Located in the county of Warwickshire, its specialty is thoroughbred Jump racing and it holds around 19 meetings throughout the year from March to November. More casual than Ascot or Epsom, it is popular with serious racing fans, and those just looking for a nice day trip. The course is also a bit smaller than some of the others but it has a total of three enclosures including the Centre course, Tattersalls Enclosure, and the Club enclosure. Guests can also camp on site as it hosts the Stratford Touring Park which is great for caravans, mobile motorhomes, and up to 192 tents.

In addition to horseracing, the venue is also used for events like product launches and parties, and several set-piece public events like the Adventure Overland Show. But what else do you need to know about visiting Stratford Racecourse and Stratford-upon-Avon at large?

Going racing

The first thing to note about going racing in the post-pandemic scene is that you must book in advance. Click here to purchase. It may not always be this way, but for the time being, we’re all keeping safe, and usually there are cost savings to buying early.

Parking in the public car park is free. You can also take a taxi to the racecourse and there are regular pick-ups afterwards. The station is a good 25mn walk.

The paddock is a central focus around which to study the horses and espy your fancy. Like a lot of courses appealing to a local audience, it’s always a good idea to follow local stables. Dan Skelton, Olly Murphy and Richard Newland are always to be respected, whilst Fergal O’Brien, Nigel Twiston-Davies and Jonjo O’Neill often send well-fancied runners here.

One of our younger racegoers made this You Tube clip in 2019

One of the more obvious things to do at Stratford Racecourse is to bet on the races that are taking place! There are two ways to go about this; online betting, or betting with a bookie. As it’s 2021, the most popular form of betting these days takes place online. From the convenience of a smartphone or tablet, punters prefer to bet on the races and benefit from a range of different bonuses, odds, and incentives. These bonuses can include additional prizes, bet matching, or even additional spins on games that aren’t racing-related. For those who are new to horse race betting and online gambling, it’s possible to follow a step-by-step article to help you compare the bonuses on offer as well as additional features.

Once you’ve figured out how you will bet, all that remains is getting your race day outfit sorted, finding someone to go with, and enjoying yourself with all the excitement that comes with this kind of events! Ladies Day each

Racing is great for people watching though. Sometimes, you can have as much entertainment watching others as the horses! Of course there’s time enough for both in an afternoon’s racing.

We always recommend you watch at least one steeplechase from the rail by an obstacle. The thunder of hooves, the breathing of horses at full gallop, shouting from the riders and the crash of birch collide to make a thrilling experience close up.

About Stratford-on-Avon

The town of Stratford d is famous throughout the UK and world as the home of William Shakespeare. The renowned poet, playwright, and author was born here and as a result, almost 3 million people a year visit to pay homage. It’s also home to the Royal Shakespeare Theatre and plenty of other sites in line with the Shakespeare theme, like Anne Hathaway’s Cottage. There are other theatres in the town as well as plenty of museums, an orchestral hall, and a number of stately homes nearby, like Charlecote, or Warwick Castle, where Richard Neville, the Kingmaker, manipulated politics in medieval England. The classic lines of palladian Ragley Hall are about 15mns drive away.

Shakespeare’s statue, surrounded by characters from his plays, adorns the gardens in front of the RSC

The town has a vibrant literature festival this year in July. But for most visitors, the river is an equally exciting attraction. Hire a rowing boat to amble up or down river and before you know it, you’re tempted to jump in!

Other fun things to do include visiting a medieval pub called The Garrick Inn, and going to the Campaign for Real Ale beer and cider festival which takes place in Stratford every year.

Where to stay

Of course, the smart money says you should stay at the Racecourse in either a tent, a mobile home, or caravan. If you don’t fancy that kind of adventure, there are plenty of other options. The Cotswolds, of which Stratford is a part, is home to a great number of stunning cottages, houses, and larger places that have been converted into accommodation. You can go full-out luxury in a spa hotel such as the Burnside Hotel, Broadway’s Lygon Arms, or try a quaint bed and breakfast such as the Quilt and Croissants. Stratford is chock-a-bloc with B & Bs.

Stratford is less than 20 miles from the centre of England, and its motorway links through the M40, M5 and M6 make it easily reachable from virtually anywhere. As a base for exploring the Cotswolds or central England, and taking in a day’s racing en route, it takes a lot of beating.

Gold lays down the law in the Foxhunter

Stratford’s largest crowd since March 2020, capped at 2,000, enjoyed an incident-packed evening of top flight hunter chases last night in which it felt at times as if the stewards had been tasked with ongoing training. Whereas on most days’ racing, their task is one of monitoring, there was much to keep them busy.

The highlight of the evening however, was the continued ascent toward the top rank by Law of Gold, trained by Norfolk farmer David Kemp, and ridden by Dale Peters in the evening’s feature event, the Pertemps Network Stratford Foxhunter Chase. This 2019 winner of the point-to-point.co.uk Champion Novice Hunters Chase took the scalp of Bob and Co and Monbeg Chit Chat when taking up the running at the last in the back straight, and always had the race in hand from then on. The winner clearly appreciates Stratford and was able to dominate in a way that he could not in the bigger field and higher class opposition in the Cheltenham Foxhunter.

Law Of Gold jumps the last to win at Stratford. 28/5/2021 Pic Steve Davies

However, a new challenger could well appear in the form of Ulster-trained Vaucelet, who put the sword to Britain’s two top novices in Premier Magic and Fumet d’Oudairies in the point-to-point.co.uk Champion Novice Chase, also known as the John Corbett Cup. The Tom Ellis – trained Fumet d’Oudairies was sent off a warm favourite at 6/4, but Vaucelet took the lead going into the final turn. Jack Andrews on Fumet d’Oudairies got a better jump from his mount at the last allowing him to join level again, but the winner stayed on well to win by 2 3/4l.

Winning trainer David Christie, based in Fermanagh, wasn’t hanging about to celebrate. With runners at Pointing fixtures in Ireland today, he set off briskly to catch the night boat from Stranraer before the evening was finished. Tell that to anyone who thinks training racehorses is a feather-bedded profession! A mere 6 hour drive lay ahead.

Vaucelet and Mr B Harvey lead over the last to win at Stratford. 28/5/2021 Pic Steve Davies

There will be other days for the two English challengers however. The three leaders were a distance ahead of Captain McGinley in fourth, himself no slouch, having won an Intermediate Hunters chase at Cheltenham last month.

The opening event of the evening gave the stewards their first homework on a busy night in the Stewards’ Room. In the shortest race of the evening over the minimum trip, a tight finish was fought out by Sam Waley-Cohen on long time leader Capitaine and Chloe Emsley on Creative Inertia. Under forceful pressure from the experienced Waley-Cohen, Capitaine pulled out enough in the final 100 yards to win by a length. However, the rider weighed in 1 1/2lb light and after an objection by the Clerk of Scales, was disqualified.

Skinners Pet Foods have supported the Ladies Open Series for five years, and there’s a clear correlation between their audience and the Pointing set. It was a disappointment therefore to see just four declared to run in this £10,000 race, but a lack of opposition won’t trouble Tom Ellis, enjoying his 151st winner under Rules and between the flags with Deans Road, who landed this with ease, under Gina Andrews.

The West Country was in good voice after Keltus prevailed in the White Swan Hotel Handicap. Spectators could have been forgiven for thinking Little Mix were playing after racing for all the shrieking that met the return of the successful Jeremy Scott- trained winner. Just a neck separated the winner from second placed Zamparelli in the most exciting finish of the night. Any one of five horses could have won at the last, where Clondau Westie skewed and lost his rider, allowing Lucy Turner to gain an advantage. Charlie O’Shea gave Keltus some forceful driving to get back up close to the line, to allow Devon blood pressure to subside.

Leading owner Tim Underwood took all his horses out of training this year, citing that running with all the Covid protocols was simply no fun. So it was sporting of him to underwrite the Print Concern Restricted Series, whose final made up the penultimate race of this magical evening for the Point-to-Point community. Have no doubt of his appetite to be back at the head of affairs though when matters return to normal.

Meantime, the race itself produced another scintillating finish, in which Bradley Gibbs, who’d come to Stratford with a set of plum rides, might reasonably have thought his moment had finally come as he led into the last on David Brace’s Gats And Co. Rivals Tekap and The Bonny Boy though took him on on either side, and ran on the stronger in the final 150 yards. In their last meeting at Kingston Blount 3 weeks ago, The Bonny Boy went down by a neck to Tekap. This time the situation was reversed, again a neck separating the two.

Some bumping near the line in a hard-fought finish brought the bing-bong into play to allow the stewards to examine the race for interference, but they judged any scrimmaging not to have affected the result. One-all between these two game rivals. Anyone following this game would certainly want to see Round Three.

The evening was concluded by the third of the season’s Point-to-Point bumpers, following similar events at Aintree and Exeter. Punters used to backing the favourites in bumpers duly followed Tom Ellis’ Latenightfumble, but anyone who’d been at Chaddesley for the Worcestershire in mid-April will have recognized the steady development of winner Fountains Chief, for Theresa Clark and this 6 1/2l win wouldn’t have been a great surprise to her or rider Darren Andrews.

Watch Out For Contenders For the 2021-22 Jockeys’ Title Over Our Summer Fixtures

We saw a fantastic tussle between defending champion Brian Hughes and Harry Skelton for the 2020/21 National Hunt Jockeys’ Championship, with the latter coming out on top for the first time. Some of the key moments took place at Stratford earlier this Spring behind closed doors. All the main contenders for the title next season are likely to appear regularly here, so Stratford is going to be an important track for them as they look to assert a lead over the summer and autumn. Here is a look at the main contenders.

Harry Skelton

Harry Skelton, a first time winner of the Champion Jockeys’ Trophy for the 2020-21 season

Skelton finished last season incredibly strongly to get his hands on the trophy on the final day of the campaign at Sandown. The brother of trainer Dan Skelton said it was a ‘dream come true’ to win the trophy.

The majority of Skelton’s winners last season came from his brother. However, he also partnered a number of Paul Nicholls’ horses in March and April which proved really helpful in his battle with Hughes.

Skelton is 11/10 in horse racing betting to defend his title, and tops the betting for the first time in his career. If he has the same hunger and drive as he showed in the final months of the 2020/21 campaign, he is sure to have another strong chance, especially with the support he gets from the Lodge Hill yard.

The defending champion is a regular at Stratford as this is his local track. With 31 winners at this course over the last five years, no jockey has enjoyed more success here than Skelton.

Brian Hughes

Hughes will be keen to win back his championship and he should once again be in the mix in the closing stages of the season. The 2019/20 champion has a lot of success in the north, in particular, where he is the go-to man for many trainers.

When he was successful in 2020, Hughes was the first northern-based jockey to lift the trophy since Jonjo O’Neill in 1980. The Irishman is not afraid to rack up the miles in pursuit of the championship. Expect to see Hughes appear at the majority of Stratford’s meetings over the next 11 months. He has had 17 winners from his 66 rides here over the last five years.

Harry Cobden

11-time Grade One winner Harry Cobden was very much in contention for the title last season until he picked up a cheekbone fracture which ruled him out the final six weeks of the campaign.

Harry Cobden carries the backing of the Champion Trainer which puts him bang in contention

Cobden is a very talented rider who is now retained by Champion trainer Nicholls. He is sure to partner a lot of top-class horses next season and given the size of Manor Farm stable, there should be no shortage of rides either.

The 22-year-old has been improving his number of winners with each season. If he is able to stay injury-free from now until April, he will have a big chance of landing his maiden title. It was an injury that put paid to his chances last season.

It’s going to be an exciting title race to follow this season, particularly when all three of the above jockeys appear at Stratford over the coming months.

Stratford Specialists Trained in Locally Could Be Horses to Follow Next Season

Stratford is perhaps better known for its Hunter Chase fixture and competitive summer cards. But did you know that this past National Hunt season the track by the River Avon had a horse running at it who went on to be placed in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle?

The Cheltenham Festival seems a world apart, yet the link between the premier jumps meeting of the year and Stratford is there for all to see. For Pleasure, trained some 25-30 miles east of the track on the Edgcote Gallops made famous by horses like L’Escargot, near the border between Northamptonshire and Oxfordshire by Alex Hales, ran twice and won both times here earlier in the campaign.

Edgcote trainer Alex Hales

A very headstrong gelding by Excelebration, For Pleasure is a keen going sort but that did not stop him progressing from winning a Stratford handicap off 107 in July into a graded performer. Via another handicap win at Bangor, he returned to the track and completed his hat-trick.

For Pleasure’s regular jockey Harry Bannister got no pleasure in trying to steer him right-handed in a Listed race at Kempton. He forfeited alarming amounts of ground rounding the home turn and lost all chance of keeping his winning streak going.

However, once back on a track configured anti-clockwise like Cheltenham, For Pleasure showed his Stratford successes were no fluke. He won one of the official trials for the Supreme, the Grade 2 Sharp Novices’ Hurdle at the November Meeting.

An all-the-way victory there helped For Pleasure achieve a peak hurdles rating of 145. Although he couldn’t win at Newbury off that in graded handicap company, he still had enough left to hang on for third in the Supreme.

While For Pleasure was no match for Appreciate It at Cheltenham, and would have finished out of the frame if Blue Lord hadn’t fallen at the final flight. He was the best of the British horses in the race, reversing Newbury form with Soaring Glory. If he could just learn to settle, then Hales would have a very useful talent to train.

Even more local to Stratford are the Alcester stables of Dan Skelton. Younger brother Harry was crowned Champion Jockey for the first time in his career this past season, and they made the nine-mile trip southeast for eight of his winning rides.

Two of those Stratford victories came aboard Stepney Causeway, a horse who looks very much on the up. With improvers like this to ride, it’s no wonder that Skelton is 11/8 in the horse racing betting for a successful defence of his National Hunt Jockeys’ Championship for 2021-22.

Stepney Causeway helps Harry Skelton to win his first Jockeys' title in March 2021
Stepney Causeway helps Harry Skelton to win his first Jockeys’ title in March 2021

The progress made by Stepney Causeway in the short time he has been in the Skelton stable after joining from Flat trainer Michael Bell in January is quite remarkable. He won three times in March, including those back-to-back hurdle wins around Stratford in the space of a fortnight.

From there, Stepney Causeway went up to Ayr in April and scored for a fourth time in five starts for Skelton during the Scottish Grand National meeting. He has earned some ante-post quotes for next year’s Arkle, should his connections decide to switch him to fences.

Running at their local track has helped both Stepney Causeway and For Pleasure on their career path so far. It may well be worth following these Stratford success stories when the jumps season returns to the big stage in the autumn as a result.

Atlantic Storm a precursor to public attendance on May 22

All the talk at Stratford yesterday was of the return of racegoers the following day. Since July last year, whilst the professionals of the sport have been thankful to be able to carry on their business on the track, the process has been largely functional without the ability to celebrate winners with owners, recruit new ones, or merely accept congratulations from the public. With last week’s announcement, all that is set to change for the better; one more step on the road to normality.

Some courses lend themselves better to course specialists, and in the case of Atlantic Storm, trained by Rob Summers at Tanworth-in-Arden, that’s certainly the case. A winner of seven of his 43 starts, he’s now won 3 of these around Stratford’s tight bends, since being bought out of a selling hurdle here in October 2018. It’s standard-bearers like these that keep small trainers in the sport, when faced with the large battalions.

Stratford remains one of the few courses still running selling races. Generally considered low grade contests, they do occasionally throw up some great theatre in the ring afterwards. Sadly, there were no surprises when the Sam England-trained Pepper Street justified 11/10 favouritism to win yesterday’s seller, and the winner went home too after there were no bids.

French-bred Shaman du Berlais was the most impressive winner of the day, making a winning debut over fences in the 2m6f handicap chase for Kerry Lee. A graduate from UK Point-to-Points at Cocklebarrow and Didmarton, the eight year old had reasonable form for Tim Vaughan, but hadn’t been seen on the track since September 2019. A change of scene seems to have done the trick after a long layoff.

Shaman Du Berlais and Richard Patrick win at Stratford. 16/5/2021 Pic Steve Davies

Seamus Mullins has a good record around Stratford, although Plumpton would have to be his favourite course. However, he was off the mark for this new season at the fifth attempt around Stratford with 10/1 shot Barrowmount in the Maiden Hurdle, as was Neil Mulholland, sporting a 100% strike rate from his single runner and winner of the handicap hurdle with The Wicket Chicken.

The Wicket Chicken and Sam Twiston-Davies win at Stratford. 16/5/2021 Pic Steve Davies

Tickets are now selling for Stratford’s fixture on May 22, where public attendance will be permitted.

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