ALCESTER-BASED trainer Dan Skelton has hailed his Champion Jockey brother Harry as “the best around” and credited him with instilling a winning culture in his Alcester yard.
The 32-year-old rider won the Jump jockeys’ title for the first time last season, a milestone his older sibling believes helped him gain the wider recognition he deserves.
Now the pair – who both have four Cheltenham Festival winners to their name – are concentrating all their efforts in 2022 on quality over quantity and are gunning for Championship races at Jump Racing’s ‘Olympics’ later this month.
Speaking about his brother, Dan said: “To my mind I’ve now got a bit of evidence to support my theory that he’s one of the best around at riding.
“When he was batting around having eight winners a season people didn’t really see that but you give a man a chance and that’s what can happen sometimes.
“Look at Jamie Vardy – he was playing non-league football and went on to become the Premier League’s leading scorer one year. You give someone a chance who wants to do it and look what can happen.
“Those days are well behind him now and I can say he’s the best rider around to my money – if I didn’t have him I’d want him. Watching him on a day-to-day basis, he’s just integral to this team and this yard and the running of it. The atmosphere created comes from him.
“He is a winner and he just hates losing. Unexpected defeat is personal for him and he takes it very hard. He instils a motivation around the yard that I don’t need to add to – if Harry is in a bad mood because we’re getting beat, everyone’s on their toes.
“I don’t need to do that, everyone’s on a red alert already. It’s great that it means that much, because everybody can see the hunger and it works because of that.
“I’d be lost without Harry and Bridget (Andrews – Harry’s wife), because when I go to do a declaration in the morning, he rides these and she rides those and we go to work. I don’t have to spend 20 minutes on the phone to agents to book riders and I think the owners really buy into it.
“He’s the champion jockey now too so when people say he isn’t the best around, it’s currently an inaccurate opinion!”
Jockey Harry is himself relishing the prospect of getting back on board Shan Blue at this year’s Cheltenham Festival – a horse which his trainer brother Dan feels the team have “unfinished business” with.
The eight-year-old looked almost certain to win the Grade Two Charlie Hall Chase at Wetherby in October only to fall three fences from home when around 20 lengths clear of a strong field.
The Skelton team have taken their time with the son of Shantou since and he will head straight to the Ryanair Chase at The Festival on the back of a racecourse gallop at Warwick last week.
Shan Blue is an 8-1 chance behind last year’s winner and the odds-on Irish raider Allaho.
Harry said: “Shan Blue was unlucky to come down in the Charlie Hall when we would have won. He seems in really good form and we’re looking forward to the Ryanair. Obviously Allaho is in there and is a really good horse but we’ll take him on and give it a go.”
Referring to his last appearance on a track, he added: “It took me a little bit by surprise just how quickly he picked up and I think that was just because of how much he’s improved really.
“At the back end of a strongly run race like that it caught me by surprise – but he looked very special that day and hopefully he can take that into The Festival.”
A lot has changed in 12 months for Skelton, who arrived at last year’s Festival in search of as many winners as possible as he chased his first jockeys’ title.
With that under his belt, the quality of horse on offer has very much stepped up a notch at the family’s Lodge Hill stables this term and Harry is hopeful that the yard will continue to grow.
He said: “I’m really looking forward to Cheltenham and I think we’ve got a good select bunch and not many going there without a chance really – which is what you want going into The Festival.
“The horses seem in good form and the ones we’re running will be going to the races good and fresh. We’re lucky that the quality has certainly lifted and that’s where we want to be going. Hopefully we can keep raising that bar and the quality of horse.
“I think there’s a lot of horses in there with chances. Whether there’s a Ch’tibello there I’m not sure, but we’ve got some good chances!”
Harry is set to have a strong book of rides throughout Festival week, which will include a first ride in the Grade One Boodles Cheltenham Gold Cup on board Protektorat.
The seven year old was a fine winner of the Grade One Manifesto Novices’ Chase at last year’s Randox Grand National Festival at Aintree and he has been in fine form in two runs so far this term, winning the Grade Two Many Clouds Chase by 25 lengths at Jumps HQ on his most recent start in December.
Harry, who already has one ‘Championship race’ winner to his name following Politologue’s victory in the 2020 Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase, admitted that he cannot wait to get on board.
He said: “I’ve got some nice rides there but it will be my first ride in the Gold Cup and our first runner, so we’re all really excited about Protektorat. We’ve always aimed to have horses like that running in these races and it will be very special.
“It’s our Olympics and that place gives you a feeling like no other can. When I rode my first winner it was a big weight off my shoulders and I try to enjoy them. I’m lucky that I’ve had a few now and hopefully I can get a few more.”