DAN Skelton believes Unexpected Party has every chance of securing him a first success in the Paddy Power Gold Cup at Cheltenham on Saturday (November 18th).
Skelton described the second season novice chaser as the ‘ideal type of horse’ to take aim at the Premier Handicap.
The eight-year-old, who also holds an entry in the Grade Two SSS Super Alloys Arkle Challenge Trophy Trial Novices’ Chase at the track on Friday, is one of 17 horses that remain in contention for the valuable two and a half mile prize.
After failing to put his head in front over fences last season the gelded son of Martaline put that experience to good use when inflicting defeat on Knappers Hill, winner of this year’s Rising Stars Novices’ Chase at Wincanton on Saturday, in a Listed event at Chepstow on his return last month.
And having filled the minor placings in the race with Midnight River, who finished third 12 months ago and Protektorat, who filled the runner-up spot in 2021, a position Spiritofthegames secured in 2020, the Alcester handler feels his luck could be about to change in the £160,000 prize.
Skelton said: “Unexpected Party was good at Chepstow. I’ve been very happy with how he has trained between Chepstow and now. He is in the Arkle Trial, but the plan is very much to go for the Paddy Power.
“Protektorat was second in the race and Midnight River was third in it, but they were horses that stayed a lot further and I think Protektorat might nearly have won if there had been a bit more rain.
“I can say that as he has since won Grade Ones, so it is not a stupid comment. I think Unexpected Party has a bit more pace than those guys.
“We’ve also been second with Spiritofthegames. He was a consistent horse all of his career, but he was a bridesmaid a lot and he would compare well with him.
“Unexpected Party is a second season chaser and historically they have always had a pretty good record in this race. I’m very hopeful that he will go there with as much a chance as you can hope for as he is the ideal type of horse for this race.”
While this be a completely different test to what Unexpected Party has faced before in any of his previous starts over fences, Skelton believes he will have no problem coping with such demands on conditions that should be in his favour.
Skelton added: “If you look at his best two victories they have been on pretty soft ground. One was over fences at Chepstow, admittedly where he had heaps of experience against inexperienced horses, but it was similar conditions when he won a pretty good hurdle at Ascot.
“I can’t see why the Paddy Power isn’t going to be at least on the soft side, if not softer, so I’ve got no concerns about the ground.
“It is something to consider the fact that he will be running against a lot more horses than he has ever done over fences before.
“All of these novices have been running around in smaller fields and at some point they have to come out of them and he is one of them that is.
“He ran in the Turners Novices’ Chase at the Cheltenham Festival, and he has turned up on some big days. The preliminaries before the race won’t get to him and that is a big part of it.
“He is a good traveller and a slick jumper, and I don’t want to put the mockers on him with a comment like that, but that is what is good at, and that is what you need for a race like this.”
Assessing his potential opponents Skelton describes last season’s Grade One Turners Novices’ Chase winner Stage Star, who is one of two entries in the race for Paul Nicholls alongside Il Ridoto, as ‘formidable’.
However, Skelton feels with the presence of both Stage Star and The Real Whacker, who claimed Grade One glory in the Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase at the Cheltenham Festival in March, it will help give Unexpected Party a nice racing weight for his next assignment.
Skelton said: “He has not won a Grade One yet, and Stage Star is near the top of the weights so he is going to be formidable to beat without talking about the rest.
“If The Real Whacker runs then you have two Grade One novice chase winners from last season so that makes the race almost as good as you can get.
“What it does mean if both those horses run is that Unexpected Party will have a nice weight on his back which can only help his chances.”