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Dan Skelton stable tour for the 2022-23 Jump season.
With a team brimming full of talent to call upon in almost every division and a legitimate Boodles Cheltenham Gold Cup contender among his ranks, the 2022-23 Jump season could be a particularly exciting one for trainer Dan Skelton.
Success at the highest level might have eluded Skelton last term, but the Lodge Hill Stables handler still managed to saddled 134 winners, six of which came at Grade Two level, amassing more than £2 million in prize money along the way.
Victory in the Boodles Cheltenham Gold Cup is something every Jump trainer aspires to and Alcester-based Skelton hopes that in Protektorat – who finished third in the race in March – he has a horse capable of breaking the Irish dominance in chasing’s Blue Riband at The Festival™.
However, before attention gets turned to Cheltenham the Saints Des Saint gelding will take part in what promises to be a true heavyweight clash with reigning Gold Cup winner A Plus Tard in next month’s Betfair Chase at Haydock Park – the first Grade One chase of the season.
Recalling this year’s Boodles Gold Cup, Skelton said: “With a better jump at the last this year he may have been second but I think A Plus Tard was pretty superior on the day. I think with slower ground it would have helped us. His build-up was perfect and there were no complaints at all.
“Next year he will be a year stronger and has a year’s more experience under his belt but let’s get started at Haydock and take on A Plus Tard there first.
“It used to be said that if you didn’t win the Gold Cup at your first go you will never win it so I am encouraged that A Plus Tard won the Gold Cup on his second attempt rather than his first. Gold Cup aside, he is a high-class horse.
“Everybody knows that his run at Aintree was not the real Protektorat. You would have to say that the race that would really suit him is the Cotswold Chase but that is a discussion to be had after the Betfair Chase. I’m very positive about the horse and he is Gold Cup standard.”
A deluge of rain prevented Nube Negra from contesting the Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase at The Festival in 2022, but a return to Prestbury Park for the defence of his Shloer Chase crown next month is on the agenda.
Skelton said: “I hope you see a performance like last year in the Shloer Chase as that is where we are going to start him again. I think everybody now appreciates that he is very good fresh and then we will consider the rest of the season.
“We just have to take it step by step with him a little. I’d love to see him back in the Champion Chase. Is there unfinished business there? I think there is after his narrow second in it the year before.
“As they get older a lot of those two milers get better at two miles. I think he is a pure two miler as he is so fast and so quick through the air. Hopefully, we will have plenty of fun.”
Most yards would be content to have one top two mile chaser, but Skelton can count himself fortunate that inThird Time Lucki, who will return in the Grade Two Betway Haldon Gold Cup at Exeter on November 4th, he has another top prospect in that division.
He said: “I was a little bit deflated after the Henry VIII but what happened at Sandown Park is that we decided to make the running as we had been saying we were going to do it one day, but by the Pond Fence you could see he had run his race.
“Ultimately last season he won two Grade Twos and looked good doing that but I suppose the disappointing day was the Kingmaker at Warwick when Edwardstone beat him as I went there thinking ‘we’ll win today’.
“He will start in the Haldon Gold Cup and he has got to be a player in that race. I think the day he could clash with Nube Negra is in the Champion Chase but luck is needed in each quarter for both to get there.”
Winning the Randox Grand National is another career goal for Skelton and in recent recruit Le Milos he believes he could have an ideal type to give him a chance of securing victory over the famous fences at Aintree.
He added: “He is new to us this season and he won the Masters Handicap Chase at Sandown Park last season. I like what I see and we are going to give him a road to the Grand National. That might look like Bangor at the start of November followed by a Coral Gold Cup or a Becher Chase.
“We’ve never won the Grand National and it is a race you have to target with one good enough. We will get him started and once we are on the road we can start fine tuning the route to it.
“He is nearly in at the weights and we will endeavour to make that a definite. He looks a good jumper so he should have scope for those fences.”
The hugely talented My Drogo was forced to miss the bulk of last season after picking up an injury after his second start over fences, but Skelton hopes to have the Grade One-winning hurdler ready for a spring campaign.
He said: “We are going to have to be patient with him as he has just gone back to Polly Gundry’s where he will do a lot of pre-training there and then we will get him back.
“He is phenomenally talented and we have got to make sure when he comes back to the track he is in as robust condition as he could possibly be. Hopefully he could be back for the spring but you have to be sure with any leg injury.”
Although Allmankind struggled after his victory in the Grade Two Jewson Monet’s Garden Old Roan Limited Handicap Chase at Aintree last season, Skelton believes he is back on track ahead of a return trip to Merseyside later this month.
He said: “I think we will go back for the Old Roan. I’m really happy with him this autumn as he just disappeared after Aintree and I don’t know what happened.
“The wheels properly fell off but he looks back to his bullish self now. He doesn’t owe anyone anything. If the reality was that he had given his lot then so be it but I don’t think he has.
“The plan is to give him a spin at Chepstow before going to Aintree. He is such a cool horse and we are lucky to have him as he puts his heart out there. Hopefully we have got him back to where he was.”
The fall of Shan Blue in the Charlie Hall Chase with the race at his mercy is a moment Skelton will not forget, but he is confident he can gain compensation in the Grade Two at Wetherby to set up tilt at the Ladbrokes King George VI Chase at Kempton Park on Boxing Day.
He said: “I’d say Shan Blue falling at Wetherby was the worst part of last season. The fact he got back last season was a massive effort, but there is massive unfinished business there.
“His time in the Kauto Star at Kempton was faster than the King George that year and that does suggest he would be a player in a race of some description.
“Potentially he could be a King George horse. If he wins the Charlie Hall you go to the King George before you make another plan. I’m thinking he is going to go to Wetherby and he will be hard to beat.”
One horse Skelton believes still has untapped potential is Langer Dan, who he hopes after signing off last season with victory in a Grade Three handicap hurdle at Aintree could potentially develop into a contender for the Paddy Power Stayers’ Hurdle at The Festival.
He said: “I think a horse that could improve a lot this season is Langer Dan.
“Whether he can make a 20lb jump and be a Stayers’ Hurdle horse I don’t know but I would be surprised if he can’t be better than a handicapper.
“Could he win something like a Relkeel Hurdle? I’d like to think he could. I think he can take the step up to three miles but I don’t trust him to do it first time out. He will go to Aintree first time out for that conditions race in November.”
Skelton is particularly well represented in the novice chasing division, with the likes of West Cork,Unexpected Party, Lac De Constance andBallygrifincottage all set for the switch to larger obstacles.
He said: “We have been cautious with Lac De Constance. We had him fit for his debut at Exeter but we left a bit to go on with him, then he went and won a Listed race back there before he won another small race at Warwick handsomely.
“Everything is going nicely and hopefully we can make him the best chaser he can be. If he ended up being good enough to run in the Scilly Isles I would run in that and miss out Cheltenham before going to Aintree.
“If he was a horse that could be a Grade One in open company we don’t want to do anything to negate that. He has always jumped fences nicely but he is such a big horse.
“Unexpected Party got a very good hurdling technique towards the end of last season. We have got to translate that to fences now but touch wood it has gone well so far.
“A horse going 145 over fences is a tip in itself and hopefully he can be Graded class. I’d be disappointed if he wasn’t a flagbearer in this division but he has not been straightforward as he has had his issues. However, he is fine mentally. I think he has got lot of the attributes you need to achieve good things.
“Ballygrifincottage should be one of our better novice chasers. I don’t think he is a horse for the Kauto Star but I can see him being in those good soft ground novice chases.
“The ultimate race is either the Towton at Wetherby or the Hampton Novice Chase at Warwick on soft ground.
“I loved West Cork’s Greatwood win. We are having a discussion about what to do with him but I think we are leaning towards going novice chasing with him.
“I think I have to start chasing with him as that is what Mike (Newbould) bought him for.
“If we got three runs in and we won one a small chase and been in two Graded races and finished placed behind something higher-rated than us to go to an Arkle you might revert back to hurdles.”
By contrast Beakstown has already had the benefit of a season over fences and that experience could be put to good use in either the Grade Three Paddy Power Gold Cup at Cheltenham in November or the Grade Two Boodles Rising Star Novices’ Chase at Wincanton the same month.
He said: “I think he is a possibly a Paddy Power Gold Cup horse. He has got more robust and consistent and he won a good Listed race at Ayr last season.
“Good to soft ground and a flat track is good for him but having said that he ran well in what was the Jewson at Cheltenham.
“If we go for the Paddy Power we can’t go for the Rising Stars. I think he belongs at the big table.”
Since starting out Skelton has always excelled with mares and in Get A Tonic and Molly Ollys Wishes he has two more stand out contenders amongst that division.
He said: “Get A Tonic is a very good mare and she got beat by Marie’s Rock at Warwick who went on to win two Grade Ones.
“She is a good mare that stays very well. I don’t think we are finished over hurdles yet. I think with her we could end up starting at Wincanton in November for that valuable mares’ handicap (Richard Barber Memorial Mares’ Handicap Hurdle) if the ground was right. I would like to see her in the Mares’ Hurdle at Cheltenham.
“Molly Ollys Wishes will go to Wetherby for the Listed race she won last season. She is magic considering she took five starts to win her first hurdle race and since then she has taken off. She has been a great mare.
“The big deal last season was the Warfield at Ascot and we got it. That will be on the agenda again. It will be Wetherby, then Kempton for a Listed mares race then the Warfield – they are the three big ones.”
When it comes to future prospects Skelton is blessed with a lengthy list. However, he has nominated five horses in particular he expects to hear plenty of as the season develops.
He said: “L’Eau De Sud is a very good French recruit who won in Auteuil. He is a novice until December 1stand there is an awful lot to like about him and we will take advantage of that. He will stay over hurdles all season but ultimately he will make a better chaser.
L’Eau De Sud
“Pikar is a 125-rated maiden. He tipped up in a three-runner race at Cheltenham then we got a clear round into him. I’d be surprised if we can’t leave last year’s form behind. I think he is pretty tidy.
“Kateira won first time at Huntingdon then didn’t run her best in the Grade Two at Aintree but she is very good for mares’ novice hurdles.
“Pembroke is a very good horse who won at Huntingdon. He will start over two miles but it won’t be long until he steps up in trip.
“Grey Dawning is very good and has already won two bumpers. To do what he has already done is great as he is by that sire (Flemensfirth) that often takes 18 months for the penny to drop. He looks fantastic and his jumping has been good.”