Dan Skelton plans to send a strong team to Aintree for this week’s Randox Grand National Festival, but will be keeping a handful of his stars fresh for Sandown Park’s bet365 Jump Finale at the end of April.
The yard has been in fine form, sending out a total of six winners at Stratford and Warwick over the past two days. Skelton is keen to take that momentum to Merseyside next week, although he knows competition at Aintree will be fierce.
He said: “We’ve got a full team going up, with one in every race and two in a few, so we’re going to give it the full treatment. I know the likes of Paul (Nicholls) have saved an awful lot back and there’s a number of trainers who didn’t jump too heavily into Cheltenham this year, so there’s a lot of fresh horses going to Aintree.”
Skelton has enjoyed plenty of success with his novices this term and will be well represented in those contests next week. He said: “My Drogo runs in the two and a half mile novice (Betway Mersey Novices’ Hurdle), Third Time Lucki runs in the two mile novice (Betway Top Novices’ Hurdle) and Midnight River will run in the three mile novice hurdle (Doom Bar Sefton Novices’ Hurdle).
“Shan Blue and Protektorat will run in the two novice chases over two and a half miles (SSS Super Alloys Manifesto Novices’ Chase) and three miles (Betway Mildmay Novices’ Chase), though I don’t know which one for which yet. Blaklion will go for the Grand National and Elle Est Belle will go for the mares’ bumper (Goffs UK Nickel Coin Mares’ Standard Open National Hunt Flat Race), while we’ve got nothing for the Topham Chase.”
Meanwhile, Skelton is contemplating stepping Allmankind up in trip after finishing only fourth in the Sporting Life Arkle Trophy at Cheltenham, and is eyeing up a Grade Two contest over two and a half miles at next month’s Scottish National meeting at Ayr.
He said: “We were quite unanimously put in our place by Shishkin so I’m going to try him up in trip and I think we might go up to Ayr, which gives him a little longer to recover. He did put everything into that race, but he’s only a novice once and we’ll get him out once more.
“Nube Negra is going to Sandown for the Celebration Chase and Langer Dan is not going to run. He ran five days later (after winning the Imperial Cup) and you’ve got to congratulate him on a good end of his season. I think we’ll be seeing the winner (Galopin Des Champs) in some Grade One races – he looks very good.”
Skelton’s success is also a huge factor in brother Harry’s bid to become champion jockey for the first time. The rider is locked in a three-way battle with current champion Brian Hughes and Harry Cobden, and trailed Hughes by three winners after riding a double on Tuesday.
Having provided both of those winners for his brother, Dan revealed that he is enjoying the challenge of trying to get the jockey over the line in the title race.
He said: “It’s been great fun. Harry’s looking at it with excitement and thrill, because he’s always wanted to be champion jockey and he’s challenging.
“The first part is challenging and the second part is winning, so if you don’t embrace the first part you’re not going to do the second. We’re planning and we’re trying to think outside the box, but it’s going to be very tight.
“Brian Hughes is used to getting six or seven rides a day and that’s bread and butter to him – he has a phenomenal number of rides and winners.
“In sport the quality of the opponents legitimises the success of the winner – you need good competition to create good winners – and the two Harrys and Brian are creating something quite exciting for the end of the season. Brian is in the north, we’re in the middle of England and Harry Cobden is the south, so it’s almost three-pronged and it’s great to be a part of.
“As a brother, nothing would give me greater pleasure than to get him across the line and there won’t be a moment of rest until it’s over. It’s going to the wire and we know that, there’s going to be no let-up and if anything we’re going to have to turn our screw up because we fall behind on numbers, so we’ve got to raise our game.
“I saw on Monday that Harry (Skelton) had gone into favouritism, but Harry is behind, Brian is in front. That’s where you want to be – he has the advantage and it’s currently his. There’s a big difference being in front to chasing.”