by Tom Collins
Dan Skelton has rapidly climbed the training ladder, to the point where he is now spoken of as a champion in waiting, and even if 2020 has been a strange time in racing, he’s stayed focused on his route to the top.
„It’s been a weird year,“ he concedes. „I had to turn a lot of horses out in the field in April and we didn’t have the number of horses in for the summer that we had in the season when we got to 200 winners, but we’ve reshaped the team in favour of quality over quantity and I think our recent results have shown the benefit of that.
„It’s vital to have the youngsters – bumper horses, novice hurdlers and novice chasers – coming through to keep pushing from the bottom up, and if you keep those drawers full of quality you’ll be all right.
„You’d have to say Roksana, a horse we made from the beginning, is at the top now and we have horses like Third Time Lucki, Midnight River and Ashtown Lad, who we got out of a point-to-point the same as Shan Blue, so we’ve got greater strength than ever, including some smart National Hunt-bred three-year-olds, and we’re looking forward to a good year.“
Below he discusses a selection of horses picked out by our reporter.
Race in focus
Roksana is on her way to the top and the Long Walk Hurdle looks the perfect race for her.
Rival to watch
Envoi Allen looks a flying machine over fences.
Where Shelfield Green, Warwickshire
Started training 2013
Horses in yard 130
Members of staff 50
Assistant trainer Tom Messenger
Head staff Tolley Dean, Joe Knox, Nick Pearce, Ed Austin, Amber Blythe
Travelling head staff Phil Haywood, Hannah Haywood, Andy Gardner
Jockeys Harry Skelton, Bridget Andrews
Conditional William Marshall
Amateurs George Cowley, Murray Dodd, Tristan Durrell, Saul Woods
Racing secretary Ella Mahon
Communications Lucinda Gould
Finance director Grace Skelton
Stable sponsor Ladbrokes
Winners in Britain
Profit/loss to £1 stake
Across The Line
Fame And Glory (sire) – La Protagonista (dam)
Owner: Craig and Laura Buckingham
Form figures: 3-413
Racing Post Rating RPR 120h Official rating –
A horse I’ve always liked, he hacked up in a maiden hurdle over two miles at Hereford this month and I was a little frustrated with his third at Uttoxeter on Saturday, when we followed the favourite rather than doing our own thing. Next time we’ll use his stride and open up a bit, because I know he’s a lot better than that.
Aggy With It
6m Presenting – Agathe Du Berlais
Andy and Sharon Measham
RPR 122h OR 122h
She had a fall at the start of last year that put us on the back foot, but she’s getting her act together and I think she’ll be progressive now that we’ve stepped her up in trip. She comfortably won a novice hurdle at Taunton last time and I think there’s plenty more to come.
4g Sea The Moon – Wemyss Bay
WJ and TCO Gredley
RPR 150c OR 151c
He enjoyed some real highlights last year and I went to Cheltenham for his reappearance over hurdles thinking I’d done a lot of work with him, but this year he’s more relaxed than last and maybe he lulled us into thinking he was fitter than he really was. He then made a remarkable chasing debut at Warwick, having the confidence to stand off and get stuck into the fences. Now we’ll keep him fresh and go for the Henry VIII Novices‘ Chase at Sandown on December 5.
7g Poliglote – Rosadame
RPR 139c OR 129c
I was very pleased with him on his novice chase debut over two and a half miles on heavy ground at Carlisle, where he ran into a good horse and they pulled well clear of the rest. He jumped well and there’s plenty of improvement to come.
7g Mamool – Aughamore Beauty
Mr and Mrs Gordon Pink
RPR 142c OR 138c
I was very happy with him winning a Listed handicap chase last month because he’s taken a long time to mature mentally and we’ve had to be very patient. He’s clearly got big performances in him from two to two and a half miles and I think slightly better ground than at Ascot would suit him even better. He’ll either go to Ascot again this weekend or to Newbury a week later, and while I’m delighted with how he’s progressing over fences, he’s still a novice over hurdles so we could have a go at that one day.
6g Nathaniel – Aigrette Garzette
RPR 139c OR 132c
He bumped into a good one at Bangor first time out this season and already looks better as a chaser than as a hurdler. As a very big horse I think he should come on for that and win plenty of decent races.
7g Arakan – Itsafamilyaffair
Mike and Eileen Newbould
RPR 145c OR 138c
He ran a really nice race at Carlisle last time, when he couldn’t win at the weights. I always felt last year there was a bit of unfinished business with him in a lot of good novice chases and I think he can land a big pot.
6g Flemensfirth – Blossom Trix
Darren and Annaley Yates
RPR 119h OR 123h
He stepped forward from his first run of the season to win a soft-ground novice hurdle at Wetherby last month. He’s a massive horse, a chaser in the making, but we’ll make a nice hurdler of him in the meantime.
Aux Ptits Soins
10g Saint Des Saints – Reflexion Faites
RPR 155h OR 157h
He won a Grade 3 handicap hurdle at Aintree for us in April 2019 and was beaten only four lengths on his last run, in a Grade 1 at Punchestown. I’ll run him in the Ladbrokes Long Distance Hurdle at Newbury at the end of the month and we’ll make a plan from there, but there are still good races to be won with him.
9g Beneficial – Hellofafaithful
RPR 154c OR 147c
He had a good year last year and just needed the run when fifth in a handicap chase at Aintree over two and a half miles. Anything up to two miles and six on slow ground is his cup of tea, and he could be getting better.
11g Kayf Tara – Franciscaine
Darren and Annaley Yates
RPR 166c OR 145c
He ran a bit of a stop-start race on his first run for us at Ascot last month [after a 623-day break], jumped a bit left-handed and showed a bit of ring-rust. It was good to get him started, though, and now he’ll go to the Becher Chase at Aintree on December 5. With the handicapper having dropped him 4lb, I think he can still be a competitor.
5g Stowaway – Queens Mark
Chelsea Thoroughbreds – Cadzand
RPR 117h OR –
The ground went too soft for him in a race that wasn’t run to suit him at Ayr last time and I’d say he’s a winner without a penalty. He runs at Warwick on Wednesday and it’ll take a fair one to beat him.
9g Sageburg – Neicha
The Can’t Say No Partnership
RPR 158h OR 154h
He ran a really good race when runner-up on his reappearance at Aintree, coming there very strongly but not staying on quite as well as the winner from the last. Now we’ll regroup and keep it simple, go to the International at Cheltenham, a race he was third in last year.
7g Voix Du Nord – Razia
RPR 157c OR 149c
He was third in a Grade 1 novice chase at Aintree and in the Haldon Gold Cup last year but he’s had a niggle and won’t be out until the new year. He’ll definitely win a good race.
11g Poliglote – Dalamine
Darren and Annaley Yates
RPR 168c OR 130c
He’s a big, heavy horse who takes a bundle of getting fit, and I was encouraged by his reappearance fourth on soft ground at Aintree, where he just got tired late on. He’ll go to Haydock next time over three and a half miles and I think there’s still a fire burning in him.
Elle Est Belle
4f Fame And Glory – Katalina
Mrs Suzanne Lawrence
RPR 120b OR –
She’d worked well but you still don’t expect to see anything quite as special as she showed in winning on her debut in a bumper at Aintree, a run she followed up when dead-heating at Cheltenham at the weekend. We ended up getting there a bit soon, but the first two pulled well clear from the last and I was very pleased. You won’t see her again until the new year.
7m Gold Well – Emma Jane
Julian Howl and Ian Tyrrell
RPR 135h OR 135h
She was a very good hurdler and as a chaser she could be even better. She had a little setback in the autumn but now she looks fantastic and will probably start around Christmas. She has size and heart and will love a fence.
5g Coastal Path – Qape Noir
Mrs Suzanne Lawrence
RPR 129h OR 128h
I was astounded when he got beat at Uttoxeter on his seasonal debut in a novice hurdle, but I’d say he’s one of those light, lean horses you assume are fit at home because of the way they look. The Cheltenham race he won after that may not have been the most competitive, and he didn’t pick up quite as well as I hoped at Sandown last time, but that was real soft ground. I still hope he can start to climb the ladder as a hurdler.
Flash The Steel
8g Craigsteel – Anna’s Melody
John J Reilly
RPR 141h OR 141h
He won the Silver Trophy Handicap Hurdle at Chepstow over two and a half miles last October and I then made a bit of a mess of things by running him over three at Haydock, but then who wouldn’t have done that given the way he was shaping? He ran well when hampered at the last in the Martin Pipe at the Cheltenham Festival and came back this season with a good run in second back in the Silver Trophy, where two and a half looked the limit of his stamina. We’ll probably go to a handicap at Newbury’s Ladbrokes meeting with him, with a view to going chasing at some stage. He’s a solid handicapper at the top level and jumps a fence well at home.
5g Fuisse – Crack D’Emble
N W Lake
RPR 131c OR 130c
He wasn’t all that productive over hurdles, which I suppose shouldn’t have come as a surprise given his size, but I was impressed with him when he won on his chasing debut at Carlisle on good ground. Everything went wrong for him at Sandown next time, where he was twice nearly brought down by fallers. There’s a nice race for him at Ascot over Christmas.
7g Doyen – African Keys
P H Betts
RPR 150c OR 143c
I was a bit disappointed with him at Cheltenham on his reappearance but it was the first time he’d been on a track like that and maybe the undulations didn’t suit him. He’s been a wonderful horse for us already but we need to get him back sparkling, maybe on a flat track, in the better races at Doncaster or Aintree. He wouldn’t want the ground too soft.
I’d Better Go Now
7g Alkaadhem – Pohutakawa
Noel Fehily Racing Syndicates
RPR 125 OR 125
He won well in a 3m handicap hurdle at Perth first time up but didn’t handle the undulations at Cheltenham next time. We’ll get him back on a flat track and start thinking about novice chases before too long. He’ll win plenty of races.
6g Network – R De Rien Sivola
Darren and Annaley Yates
RPR 135h OR –
He came to us with a big price tag and a lot of publicity, but he had a little injury in training last year and we’ve given him plenty of time because he’s a gorgeous big horse. He’s just started back and he’ll be out in the new year in a couple of hurdles, but he’s going to be a lovely chaser when the right time comes.
4g Valirann – Talkin Madam
2- (point-to-point form)
A lovely horse who came to us from the Irish point-to-point field. He’ll be ready to go in a couple of weeks and will do well as a hurdler at two and a half miles upwards, but you’ll really see the best of him as a chaser.
5g Midnight Legend – Well Connected
RPR 134h OR 135h
We looked after him last year but he kept on well to win at Uttoxeter on his seasonal debut and I thought he jumped beautifully next time at Cheltenham for a horse with so little experience, only getting outgunned late on by a horse with an extra gear. I wouldn’t mind taking on anybody on slightly slower ground and I think he can take high rank as a hurdler, but you’ll see him at his best as a chaser next year.
8g Intikhab – Reyaada
Mrs June Watts
RPR 151h OR 141h
A real pleasure to have around the yard, he’s a County Hurdle winner who has won some very good two-mile contests for us but ran well in a 2m4f handicap on soft ground at Aintree on his reappearance, staying on well, then backed that up with a good run in second over just beyond three miles at the same track. He retains his enthusiasm and he looks the perfect horse for the Pertemps Final, which the owners sponsor. He’ll go to Cheltenham on December 11 for a 3m handicap hurdle and then we’ll plot a course for the festival.
5g Milan – My Petra
Mr and Mrs R Kelvin-Hughes
RPR 122b OR –
He looked promising when second in a Cheltenham bumper on his only run and looks the real deal. He’s a beautiful, imposing horse, relaxed well and came home strongly, and he’ll start his hurdling career at the Ladbrokes Trophy meeting at Newbury next week.
7g Getaway – Nonnetia
Dick, Keenan, Sawer and Stevenson
RPR 127h OR 126h
He’s a half-brother to Grand National winner One For Arthur and will go chasing this year. We were very and patient with him as a hurdler, because he’s been a slow learner, but I hope his owner will be rewarded for that in time.
6g Mahler – Sherchanceit
Winter Gold Racing
RPR 147c OR 133c
A very smart horse in the making, he was in the process of running a big race at Aintree last time when he came down two out, jumping the fence well but not quite getting his landing gear down. Luckily he’s been fine since and we’ll just take our time getting him back on to the track, because there’s a nice race to be won with him. A step up to three miles in time wouldn’t frighten him and he’d be fine on most ground, although he wouldn’t want it heavy.
6g Dink – Manly Dream
RPR 153c OR 152c
He’ll have a slightly later start to the season this year and go fresh to the Desert Orchid Chase at Kempton over Christmas. He was a very good novice chaser last year but he never got the chance to run in a good race under his best conditions, over two miles on good or good to soft ground on a speed track. I’m looking forward to seeing him in the spring when he’s got everything in his favour.
9g Central Park – Top Of The Class
Chris Giles and Sandra Giles
RPR 151c OR 147c
We wanted a good pace in the Old Roan Chase but didn’t get it, so we had to kick on and that made us the target for the others. I’m encouraged by his consistency though, so he’ll go to Newbury at the end of the month, where he’ll have a decent chance, after which we’ll look at all the races he ran in last year. I’m sure he’ll win when things are right for him.
6g Sir Percy – Laverre
RPR 121h OR 123h
He looked progressive going into his last outing at Bangor, but that run was a backward step on very bad going. I was a bit disappointed with him at Cheltenham last week as well, but I don’t think we’ve seen him even half at his best yet. Maybe he hadn’t quite got over his Bangor run, so we’ll give him a month off, find him some slightly better ground and he’ll go very close next time.
5g Declaration Of War – Notable
Empire State Racing Partnership
RPR 135 OR 131
He ran really well at Wetherby first time up but at Cheltenham at the weekend he told us that he doesn’t like really soft ground. I believe there’s a big day in him on a better surface.
5g Saint Des Saints – Protektion
Sir A Ferguson, G Mason, J Hales and L Hales
RPR 160c OR 149c
He still had an awful lot to learn and was always a bit keen, so he needed his second season as a hurdler, but the benefit of that was obvious on his chasing debut over two miles at Carlisle, where he really pleased me in winning comfortably, and I was super happy with the way he won at Cheltenham last week. He jumped really nicely on the good to soft ground and we can draw on that ability whenever we want – we don’t have to go straight back there. Although he’ll get three miles in time, I’ll stick at two and a half for the moment. We’ll have a good think about where to send him next because on that evidence he could be a star in the making.
5g Arvico – Stoney Path
Mrs S C Welch
RPR 128h OR –
He went off at 50-1 for a maiden hurdle on soft ground at Aintree on his return, but although he’d been a slow learner at home he’d shown a bit of ability, so his win wasn’t a complete surprise. Harry [Skelton] said he was holding his hand through the race because he was so green and babyish, but then he turned up at the last with plenty left. He’s still unfurnished and has plenty of improvement in him physically.
5g Mahler – Cousin Kizzy
Noel Fehily Racing Syndicates
RPR 114h OR 115h
He went well in a competitive Ascot novice handicap on only his third run over hurdles and there will be a lot of improvement to come. He’ll go for a middle-distance handicap in about three weeks, with ground no worry, but he’ll really come into his own over fences.
8m Dubai Destination – Talktothetail
Mrs Sarah Faulks
RPR 156h OR 153h
She’d had her doubters so it was nice to get a good victory under her belt at Wetherby last month, with what was an impressive performance to the eye, even if perhaps others in the race will improve a fair bit. Last year she was carrying a Class 1 penalty and was the best horse at the weights a couple of times without winning, but she’s always been a high-quality mare. I think you’d have to say that her best performances have been over three miles and she’s got improvement in her over that trip, so that’s the route we’ll go down. She went back to her owner for a short break to freshen her up for the Long Walk Hurdle at Ascot on December 19, although I’ll enter her at Leopardstown over Christmas just in case travel restrictions ease. The Long Walk is the main target, though, and if she runs well there, then maybe we’ll be drawn down the Cheltenham route, but the owner isn’t all about the festival and if we felt it was right to go fresh to Aintree then that’s what we’d do.
6g Shantou – Lady Roberta
RPR 156c OR 152c
I always believed he’d be a really good chaser but his two runs over fences this season have been a revelation. He’s looked a natural in winning twice at Wetherby, first over two and a half miles and then over three, so at the moment we’re looking to go to the Kauto Star Novices‘ Chase, and with that in mind he’ll probably go to Huntingdon on December 6 to get him spot on for Kempton on Boxing Day. It’s a tough route to go down but from what we’ve seen so far, there will be plenty of people who won’t be all that keen to take him on.
7g Flemensfirth – Bridgequarter Lady
M Boothright, G Lovett and P Deffains
RPR 138c OR 132c
He’s a lazy character who takes a bit of stoking, but although his pulled-up effort over three miles at Bangor last time was disappointing, I think that may have been down to the trip, so we’ll drop him back in distance and I still think he’s got a nice race in him.
8g Darsi – Lucy Walters
N W Lake
RPR 154c OR 148c
He’s a fixture in a lot of the good 2m4f handicap chases and he produced another brilliant run off his high mark in the Paddy Power Gold Cup at the weekend. He’ll miss the December meeting at Cheltenham and go back there on New Year’s Day, when I hope he can finally get the big win he deserves.
Third Time Lucki
5g Arcadio – Definite Valley
Mike and Eileen Newbould
RPR 131h OR 129h
A very good bumper horse who really pleased me in winning his first two races over hurdles. He kind of handled the soft ground when runner-up at Cheltenham on Sunday – when he had was unsuited by having to go and chase the all-the-way winner – but he’d be a lot happier on a better surface. He’s learned a lot from his three quick runs and he hurdles well, but he’s very much a chaser.
West To The Bridge
7g Flemensfirth – Godlylady
RPR 142h OR 140h
I was amazed I never won a bumper with him, but he’s always been free-going, he still sweats a bit at the start, and maybe he’s just taken time to get the hang of things. I was pleased with his Uttoxeter second over three miles on good to soft ground, which I thought was a very good start to the season, and it was no surprise to me that he won at Carlisle over two and a half on heavy, so now he’ll go to the Grade 3 stayers‘ handicap hurdle at Haydock on Friday. Hopefully this is the start of what he’s really capable of.
Wilde About Oscar
5g Oscar – Baie Barbara
Mike and Eileen Newbould
RPR 132 OR 115
He’s very talented and likes to get his sleeves rolled up. He was very green over the first few hurdles at Uttoxeter on his reappearance but got the job done well, and it was no surprise to me the way he won at Aintree next time, pulling clear by 16 lengths. I think he’d have no problem dropping back to two miles on proper soft ground and we’ll look at the Challow or the Tolworth and then pick his race for the spring. I think there’s plenty of potential there.
5m Kalanisi – Aboo Lala
RPR 128h OR –
She got on top late in a decent mares‘ hurdle at Warwick and ran a lovely race in a Grade 2 novice hurdle at Cheltenham last week. She was a bit green coming down the hill but then flew up it and I was delighted with the way she finished her race off. The form looks strong and I think she’s got a big future. I’m not sure where we go next but she can easily make her mark in novice mares‘ Graded company and she’ll be a real prospect when she goes over fences.
We’ve got ten or so juveniles and we’ve already had one winner in Cabot Cliffs (3g Gleneagles – Hallouella), who went on to be third in a Wetherby Listed race, then a good fourth under a front-running ride at Cheltenham on Saturday, and is open to a lot of improvement on a flat track, especially on really soft ground. Among the unraced ones are Ambassador, a decent stayer on the Flat; and two new recruits, John Locke (3g Mastercraftsman – Sacred Shield) and Shake A Leg (3g Excelebration – Sos Brilliante), who both look tailormade for hurdling.
I’ve been very encouraged with how our bumper horses have been going. Quid Pro Quo’s (4g Beat Hollow – Thieving Gypsy) success from a good horse of Paul Nicholls‘ at Hereford delighted me, as did Cousu Main (4g Buck’s Boum – Just Pegasus) with his second at Uttoxeter, and Global Famenglory (4f Fame And Glory – Noble Pearl)who has improved a lot at home since her debut fourth at Uttoxeter. Greatest Star’s (4g Lord Du Sud – Sacree Mome) Warwick bumper is working out well; Jay Jay Reilly (4g Fame And Glory – Garden City)went nicely at Wincanton last time although he looks a 2m4f to 3m chaser in the long term; and Jersey (4g Presenting – Synthe Davis) is a beautiful big horse who is going to be a chaser but has already run well in an Ascot bumper.
Two for the tracker
Northofthewall should make huge strides as he gains experience and goes up in trip, while Wild Romance is a classy mare who will thrive as the season goes on.
For so long, the trainers‘ championship was dominated by Paul Nicholls and Nicky Henderson. Although their rivalry has been exciting and exhilarating over the years, the division has been crying out for a young gun to come and challenge at the top of the standings. Step forward Dan Skelton.
Skelton began his training career in 2013 and rapidly progressed into a leading light in jump racing, so much so that he broke the 200-winner barrier two years ago.
It was more quantity over quality that campaign with much of that total amassed during the summer months, but Skelton has since worked tirelessly to build a team of horses capable of striking on the big stage and bridge the prize-money gap with his aforementioned foes for top spot.
His team is headed by Roksana, one of just two Grade 1 winners for the yard. That came in the Mares‘ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival in March 2019, albeit after clear leader Benie Des Dieux capsized at the last flight.
Nevertheless, she has proved on multiple occasions that she can compete at the top level and sauntered through the soft ground at Wetherby on her return. Aintree might be the best target for her in April.
Other promising hurdlers in the yard include Aggy With It, Ashdown Lad, Midnight River and Wilde About Oscar, all of whom could easily make up into bona fide Grade 1 performers.
One horse who may already be at that level is Protektorat, who has romped home on his first two chasing starts at Carlisle and Cheltenham and jumps with unlimited exuberance, which is always great to see from a young prospect.
He achieved a Racing Post Rating of 160 when bolting up on Friday and surely it’s just a matter of time before he gets his chance at the top level.
Similar plans may be in the offing for Northofthewall, who is yet to achieve anything like the same level of form at Protektorat but jumped beautifully before diving at the second-last at Aintree recently and is open to plenty of improvement when upped to three miles.