StableTalk: Dan Skelton writes exclusively for Coral
Fresh from recording a double on Wednesday, New Coral National Hunt Ambassador, Dan Skelton, is in buoyant mood ahead of this weekend’s action. In today’s exclusive column, Dan reflects on his runners over the past seven days, gives us the lowdown on his chances this weekend and answers your questions!
The Past Seven Days
Last week I said that the weekend at Chepstow would be difficult but all our horses came away with their reputations intact and some even enhanced. I was very pleased with Hurricane Hollow in the Silver Trophy and he will now head straight for The Ladbroke in early December at Ascot. He probably didn’t quite stay but I’d be looking forward to that race with him. We won it with Willow’s Saviour in 2013 and he’d go there with every chance. I was very happy with Rene’s Girl. I said she’d make a much better jumper and she proved that.
As a bumper horse she’d have finished a long way behind Hollies Girl but as you saw from her debut over hurdles she’s going to be much better in this sphere. I think the unlucky one of the weekend was Kid Kalanisi. He got badly hampered three out, lost his confidence going to the second last and tipped over but he’s absolutely fine after that fall and he proved that he’s a nice horse. We fancied him a bit for his bumper last year but he never really got involved on ground that was too quick but we think he’s going to make a nice jumper in time. Both Boss Des Mottes and Wilton Milan ran well in tough handicaps and ran beyond their marks so I was very happy with both of them.
Baratineur ran well at Huntington on Wednesday. He was a bit keen; he needs to learn more about the racing job! Obviously when he won his two bumpers in France, he was able to get away with being a bit keen but over here he needs to learn to settle better; that will happen it just doesn’t happen overnight. Girly Girl deserved to win her bumper as she ran well in a bumper at Cheltenham last season. Wednesday’s race was a drop in grade but she was very tough from the front. She’ll go jumping now and given softer ground with jumps in front of her; I think she’s going to be on the upgrade. Superb Story was good; he showed lots of speed but we just want him to settle a bit more. Obviously the handicapper is going to have a bit of a say but we’ll reassess things after that.
Overall I was very pleased with how the week went. If they’re not winning they’re being placed, and we had two winners and two seconds on Wednesday. They are running very well but it’s hard to win, as a lot of people have their horses in good form. We desperately need some rain and hopefully it’s not too long in coming!
He joined us with no racecourse experience last year and I felt running him in juvenile hurdles only helped him; he got a bit better with those three runs under his belt. His run up at Musselburgh on soft ground was probably just a bit below what we were expecting on the day but the ground description was inaccurate and I wouldn’t have gone up there had I known it was going to be soft. I’m looking forward to getting him back on a bit of decent ground this autumn. He’s still learning the trade but he’s shown a decent level of form so far and should run nicely.
He has shown us plenty and is a very genuine horse. You could never question his work; he always gives you a lot and he jumps very nicely. He’s looks to me like a two miler at this stage of the year and given his tender age I suspect that will be the case for this season. But I’ve liked his preparation, he’s been problem free. We jumped him out on the grass once a couple of weeks ago when we had some decent ground and he’s schooled plenty more since. He’s a 140 rated hurdler getting 9Ibs allowance for being a four year-old so you don’t need me to say that we think he’s going to go well! However it is a tidy race and with Fox Norton and Golden Doyen in the line-up this will probably be the most informative novice chase thus far.
He won on his debut for us last season and I think he has improved from last year but whether he can win off a mark of 124, I’d need a bit more racecourse evidence. He’s had an uninterrupted program up to now and has been ready to run for a week to 10 days but we’ve been waiting for the ground to be proper good ground rather than on the quick side. He goes there with a decent chance.
He disappointed us a little bit on Monday in a chase up at Sedgefield. We’re turning him out quickly with a pair a blinkers on as we think he’s holding a little bit back. From a punting perspective he comes with his risks, however, we feel this horse has enough ability to be winning a race. He’s shown no ill effects from his run on Monday and with a pair of blinkers on and only going up the road to Stratford, hopefully we can eke out the improvement necessary to win.
He was third in a Listed handicap at Market Rasen three weeks ago. He loves fast ground and this track will really suit him. He’s one of the higher rated horses in the race and he’s also got to carry the bigger penalty, and he has to give John Ferguson’s horse 2Ibs. John Ferguson’s horse has earned his rating in novice races and we’ve earned our rating in handicaps; so often handicap form is more solid than the novices and that’s what we’re hoping for on the day. However John’s horse is not going to be easy to roll over and neither is Paul’s (Nicholls) horse (San Benedeto).
We’re obviously fighting for second place here but the track and the ground are absolutely perfect for her. She’ll run here and then go for the mares’ race at Wetherby in a fortnight. She race very well in the Galway Hurdle, didn’t quite get up the hill, but I’ve been very happy with her preparation.
The New One is 1/6 so we’re probably looking for second place, some prize money and bit more black type for the mare to go breeding with. Would I be concerned about what the handicapper would do to her if she ran The New One close? Not particularly. Less than three months ago she showed her true form in one of the most competitive handicaps of the year at Galway, she had a few runs in handicaps and you have to trust the handicapper.
He knows the mare and knows how she ran at Galway and if she ran a length behind The New One on Sunday, he’s not going to all of a sudden think ‘Oh my god she’s a 155 mare’, he knows where she should be. That said, I think she’ll run well.
This is his second season with us and we quite like him. He ran well in a point to point before he joined us and ran some good races last season, but was probably over the top when he ran at Ayr last April. He’s had an uninterrupted preparation and has been working well at home. The ground and track should be ideal for him and on ratings he has the winning of this, and with that in mind I expect him to go well.
NEW FEATURE – ASK DAN & WIN A FREE £50 BET!
Have you got a question for Dan Skelton? If so, simply email it to firstname.lastname@example.org. Each week Dan will select his favourite three questions with each winner receiving a free £50 bet (please note that only questions published will be answered).
ASK DAN SKELTON
Q. What is your relationship with Paul Nicholls like now given he is a rival?
A. We get on extremely well and probably talk to each other at least three times a week. I ring him about plans and where he thinks he might run horses. He might ask me something not too dissimilar. If I ever needed any advice, I’d always ask him. We talk about all sorts, about who’s buying what in France and that sort of thing so we’re always talking. I get on very well with him. I’ve been lucky enough to get some horses via his recommendation so I owe him a great deal.
He’s my rival but I don’t want to beat him for any other reason other than I want to win the race; I don’t want to beat him just because it’s Paul Nicholls. I want to beat him because it means if I beat him I might win the race. I know he feels the same, he doesn’t want to beat me because he thinks ‘Oh that bloody Skelton, I taught him everything so I need to put him back in his place’, he doesn’t think like that. Similarly I don’t think like that, because he taught me everything that I have to go and beat him to prove a point. At the end of the day its racing and we get on with it.
Q. They say never work with family so what is it like having your brother as stable jockey?
A. They do say that but there are a lot of successful family businesses out there but I’ve got complete trust in him and he’s got complete trust in me. I don’t ever have to question his actions, his motives, his application or desire. He can tell me the absolute truth and I can tell him the absolute truth and it’s a winning combination for us.
Q. What are your thoughts on the Jockey Club’s £1 Million Bonus initiative and is it winnable this year?
A. I certainly welcome it. It’s good for racing and it’s very exciting for people to give it a go but I would have some serious doubts about the actual winning of it. It took a horse like Kauto Star to win it and theoretically they don’t come along every five years! Look, it might happen but if I was a bookmaker I’d be happy to lay bets on it being won. You must factor in that connections of the Gold Cup contenders will already have a campaign in mind and ask which of those three races are they most likely not to go for and you’d probably say the Betfair Chase. If you start changing your early season plans because there’s a million quid on offer, that is probably a 100/1 to win, you could end up ruining your entire season. I think they will be a few people thinking, particularly with the younger ones, let’s go for the King George and Gold Cup this year and if we pull those two off, we’ll give it a right go next year.
It takes a phenomenally good horse to win this Triple Crown and there are a lot of good races out there to be won without getting carried away with the fact that’s there’s a million quid on offer to do the almost impossible.
Take Coneygree; the prize they have their eye on is the Gold Cup so if they use the Betfair Chase as a prep race, they’re not going to win it because it’s not a prep race, it’s a Championship Grade One race. You’ve either got to have them super stoked at home or you’ve got to go there after a prep race and if you’re doing that then you’re getting into it being a really long season. You’ve almost got to win it as your prep race like Kauto did that year; he was good enough to win the Betfair as a prep race and that isn’t normal.
Paul will have Silviniaco Conti ready to the minute for the Betfair and if he goes on and follows up in the King George then they’re probably going to have a crack at the Gold Cup. Although he’ll probably be a much bigger price to win the Gold Cup than ever before because of the Cheltenham factor, you’re gonna get suckered into having a go and of course you would have a go at that point. But I think that when it works the other way round when you get suckered into having a go at the first one rather than the last one you end up compromising your season.
Q. Name a horse that you would love to have in your yard and why?
A. The stand-out horse for a lot of people would be Vautour. He’d be my first port of call. He’s got speed but he can stay, at least 2 ½ miles at Championship level and as he gets older he’ll probably stay even better. It’s fast pace that win these Championship races now at any trip, 2, 2 ½ or 3 miles and he has bundles of pace. Ruby (Walsh) can be wherever he wants to be in a race on him. If they go slow, he’s the quickest horse in the race; if they go fast he can bide his time and he’s got the most equal turn of foot so when you’re on that type of horse you’ve got all bases covered.