Horses to follow – Five to track from Dan Skelton’s stable
Our expert takes a look through Dan Skelton’s yard and highlights five horses who are well worth tracking during the 2019/20 National Hunt season.
Since leaving trainer Paul Nicholls’ yard to go it alone, Dan Skelton’s operation has grown exponentially. Year on year, Skelton’s stable have improved on the previous season’s tally of winners and, last year, they even managed to break Martin Pipe’s record for the fewest number of days to reach 100 winners in a season, reaching triple figures before the start of November.
Skelton’s rise to prominence reached a new level on the first day of the Cheltenham Festival, as Roksana handed her trainer a maiden Grade One victory in the Mares’ Hurdle. Skelton’s love affair with the County Hurdle continued three days later when Chti’bello followed in the footsteps of Mohaayed and Superb Story by winning that lucrative handicap and you can bet your life that Skelton has earmarked a couple of runners to take part in the 2020 renewal of that two-mile handicap.
Here are five horses from Dan Skelton’s ever-growing ranks that are yet to reach their full potential and look well worth tracking during the 2019/20 campaign.
Dan Skelton Horses To Follow
Interconnected has managed to grab the headlines on several occasions during his short career, despite making just one appearance under rules. Brought by the Grech & Parkin Syndicate for over £200k, Interconnected performed well on his hurdling debut for Nicky Henderson, pushing the classy Emitom all the way to the line in a novice contest at Newbury.
At the end of the season, Grech & Parkin decided to sell all of their horses and Darren Yates moved quickly to purchase this son of Network for a staggering price of £625k. Yates, who owns several horses based with Philip Kirby, initially decided to keep Interconnected with Kirby. Yet, the ambitious owner performed a dramatic U-turn over the summer and Interconnected, along with a couple of his stablemates, made the move from Kirby’s yard down to Dan Skelton’s base in Warwickshire.
This exciting five-year-old has a lot to live up to, having cost various owners well over £800k since his initial sale in 2017. Yates is hopeful Interconnected will develop into a horse of Gold Cup caliber given time. For now, his immediate future lies in novice hurdles and I’d be surprised if he wasn’t rated highly enough to take his chance in either the Ballymore or the Albert Bartlett come the spring.
After an inauspicious start to life under rules, falling when comfortably beaten on his hurdling debut at Bangor, Skelton will have been delighted with the progress Ardlethen made on his second, third and fourth starts. Skelton’s six-year-old built on a 13-length triumph at Uttoxeter with an even more impressive win under a penalty at the same venue, before rounding off his season with an eighth-place finish in the Grade One Sefton at Aintree.
It was always going to be a tough task for Ardlethen, as he locked horns with the likes of Champ, Emitom and Lisagar Oscar. As it turned out, he was beaten out of sight, having weakened in the closing stages, but two things you could take from that performance were, firstly, what a big stamp of a horse Ardlethen looked and how powerfully he seemed to travel through the early stages of the contest.
Chasing was always going to be the game for this six-year-old and he will grow stronger and stronger as the season wears on. Whether Ardlethen will reach the required rating needed to try his hand in the RSA Chase, I do not know, but considering how quickly Skelton was to step his charge up to three miles, the four-mile National Hunt Chase could be high on his list of spring objectives.
Another of Skelton’s novice hurdlers from last season who looked like they were tailor-made for chasing, Beakstown caught the eye on a number of occasions. None-more-so than at Warwick in January, where Harry Skelton’s mount powered clear of some very well regarded rivals to win the Grade Two Leamington Novices’ Hurdle by almost four lengths.
In the immediate aftermath of that impressive win, Skelton claimed that the Cheltenham Festival was not on the agenda and Beakstown would be sidelined until he tackled fences in the autumn. In the end, the team decided to take their chance in the Ballymore, but their six-year-old couldn’t repeat the electrifying display he produced at Warwick, pulling up before the last after an error-strewn display.
I doubt Skelton will dwell on that disappointment for too long, as he’s long thought Beakstown would be much more comfortable over the larger obstacles. I expect this son of Stowaway will improve significantly on his hurdling mark of 140 this season and the December Novices’ Chase at Doncaster looks a race that would suit him perfectly.
Following a couple of hard-fought victories in novice chases, Skelton threw Destrier into the Maghull Novices’ Chase at Aintree. Harry Skelton’s mount made a serious mistake at the third fence but managed to recover his composure well and was still traveling sweetly as he was pulled off the rail to attack Ornua coming down the home straight.
Skelton might have left Aintree a little underwhelmed, as Destrier seemed to find little after coming off the bridle and relinquished second to Us And Them in the strides before the line. However, on just his third start over fences, to finish so close to a couple of proven Grade One horses was a fantastic achievement, especially when you look back on the error he made so early on in the race.
With Altior set to step up beyond the minimum distance, there will be opportunities for two-mile chasers to rise to prominence and it’s clear there’s plenty more to come from Destrier on his second season over fences. All of Destrier’s victories to date have come on left-handed, galloping tracks, so races like the Shloer and Game Spirit Chase’s would be ideal as the team prepares their charge for a possible tilt at the Champion Chase come the end of the season.
Fans of flat racing will know a lot about Proschema from his days with Tom Dascombe. Although he wasn’t a serial winner on the level, he ran in the St Leger as a three-year-old and proved a decent staying handicapper during 2019. Although a fairly new name in the stallion ranks, Declaration Of War has produced a decent jumper over in France and, judging by what Proschema was like as a flat horse, he could develop into a dour stayer over obstacles and be a prominent figure in the Cheltenham betting tips race.