Dan Skelton is training a horse of magnificent calibre in the form of Shan Blue. The potential of the bay gelding is limitless, and there is a big race in him somewhere – and soon. Saturday’s Charlie Hall Chase at Wetherby could have been the start of a very productive campaign for Shan Blue along with Harry and Dan Skelton, were it not for that somersault at the third last with the race won.
The horse put down a dominating performance at Wetherby as he stormed 20 lengths clear of a field stacked with talent. All he had to do was clear the remaining fences and a signature win would have belonged to the Skeltons and owner Colm Donlon. However, Shan Blue had a crashing fall three fences from the end of the race when unchallenged, spurning a golden chance of victory. Nicky Henderson’s Fusil Raffles capitalised on his misfortune to win the contest.
Despite the setback, there should be high excitement about the future of Shan Blue in the 2021/22 National Hunt season. If you check today’s racing results you will no doubt see a high-profile horse that failed to perform, but it is the nature of the sport that mistakes and misfires occur on a daily basis even for the best of competitors. There’s a reason it’s called Jump racing: you have to jump round to win. Shan Blue is still backable as a solid contender for the Ryanair Chase at Cheltenham Festival in 2022, although Dan Skelton may opt to place his charge elsewhere and even the Gold Cup is a possibility.
The bay gelding was outstanding in the early stages of last term, reeling off three victories on the bounce, including a brilliant run at the Kauto Star Novices’ Chase before suffering a defeat at Sandown Park. The presence of Envoi Allen was supposed to leave his hopes in the Marsh Novices’ Chase as a write-off. However, after the favourite fell after the third fence, the race was blown wide open.
Shan Blue failed to rise to the occasion amid the talent of Chantry House, while he was forced to settle for fifth place behind the eventual winner along with Fusil Raffles, Asterion Forlonge, and Chatham Street Lad. The seven-year-old should have had the quality to compete for the middle distance novices crown, but was off the pace when it mattered most.
Chantry House would haunt the Skeltons and Shan Blue once more to end the campaign. The bay gelding was competitive for a time in the Mildmay Novices’ Chase at Aintree, but once Chantry House found his rhythm, he pulled away from Shan Blue and stormed to a dominant 32l victory. Given the end to the last campaign and the disappointment to start the new one, there might be question marks over Shan Blue. He has been found wanting at Grade I level. However, he remains a quality competitor and may need only one clean and flawless ride to regain his peak form.
Dan Skelton should be pressing his charge forward in the major races on the National Hunt calendar before Cheltenham 2022 and will not be deterred by the fear of failure. The example of Envoi Allen’s fall at the Marsh Novices’ Chase and Shan Blue’s own disappointment at the Charlie Hall Chase is evidence that anything can happen in the top races. Envoi Allen redeemed himself spectacularly at Down Royal on Saturday.
Skelton and Shan Blue just need the dice to fall in their favour and capitalise on the opportunity of a big prize for this exciting star of the future.