DAN Skelton believes he could have a live contender for next year’s Grand National in Latenightpass who boosted his chances of a return to Aintree with a ready success at Cheltenham in the Glenfarclas Crystal Cup Cross Country Handicap Chase.
Having finished second on debut over the unique cross country course at the home of jump racing last month, the 10 year old put that experience to good use when going one better in the extended three miles and five furlongs prize to enhance his chances of an outing in the world’s most famous jump race.
Racing prominently throughout, the 7-2 favourite, who already has one win over the famous Grand National fences to his name in the 2022 Randox Foxhunters Open Hunters’ Chase, pulled clear after the final obstacle before crossing the line four lengths clear of Francky Du Berlais.
Shelfield Green handler Skelton heaped praise on trainer on Tom Ellis, who helped Latenightpass to his previous Aintree success, and his sister-in-law Bridget.
Skelton said: “I thought coming away from last time that he acquitted himself very well, but to be fair I don’t really know the horse that well.
“Tom (Ellis) has done most the training with him, and throughout all this Bridget (Skelton) has done all the work on him. It has just been my name on the licence. He has been a massive addition to the team.
“When you come out of hunter chases you don’t know if you belong in a higher grade. I think he has probably now suggested twice that is the truth.
“Not all of them take to it, but he did. We jumped (around here) in between races and he loved it. That gave me reason to think that he should at least back his run up.
“I’d say it is blindingly obvious (to have a go at the Grand National). I’m not saying we should be favourite for the Grand National, but I think he more than deserves his chance.”
Equally delighted with the performance was triumphant rider Gina Andrews, who like Skelton, was quick to acknowledge the role her sister played in the victory.
Andrews said “He is just an unbelievable little horse. He gave me one of the best days of my career and he has given me another one today.
“He is the horse of a lifetime for us. He was bred by my mother-in-law (Pippa Ellis) and trained by Tom (Andrews’ husband) in point to points.
“He went to Dan’s two weeks’ before he ran last time and my sister (Bridget) deserves all the credit as she has done all the work with him.”
Earlier on the same card Wilmcote handler Olly Murphy found himself among the winners after Go Dante (7-2 favourite) secured owner Barbara Hester with a winner on her birthday when prevailing by a length and a quarter in the Catesby Estates Handicap Hurdle.
And 24 hours later there was further success at Cheltenham for Skelton and his brother Harry Skelton after Nurse Susan (11-2) claimed the concluding Virgin Bet Every Saturday Money Back Mares’ Handicap Hurdle by half a length.