Warwickshire has an enviable record of producing top flight horsemen, whether this be the late lamented Jane Edgar, Rio Gold winner Nick Skelton, or his son Dan, who has successfully pushed his way into the top echelons of the Jump racing training ranks from his base in Croome country, near Alcester.
Since leaving Paul Nicholls’ yard in 2013, where he was assistant trainer prior to his departure, Dan Skelton has progressively had more success on his own with each season.
The West Midlands-based trainer finished third in the curtailed 2019/20 Trainers’ Championship behind the two big powerhouses of Nicholls and Nicky Henderson. With a tally of 119, he had more winners than any other trainer in this country, but still found time to support the new Point-to-Point course at Shelfield Park, where Nick Pearce, who works for him, is Clerk of the Course.
Skelton will be hoping he can continue his rise as one of the leading trainers in the UK going into the 2020/21 campaign. But if he is to challenge for the Championship next season though, he is going to need to break through at the leading meetings. Unlike Flat racing, success or failure in the Championship is dictated by performance at Cheltenham and Aintree, where many of the lucrative races on the National Hunt calendar take place. Whatever came before can change in 4 momentous days in March, or by winning the National three weeks later.
In 2020, Nicholls, Henderson, Willie Mullins and Gordon Elliott dominated the four days at Prestbury Park. The size of their yards ensures they are able to have far more runners at the meeting than anybody else, particularly in the handicaps, and the financial muscle within their ownership buys them the best blue bloods available. Skelton did not go into Cheltenham earlier this year with many strong hopes; however, he would have been disappointed to draw a blank rather than add to his tally of 4 Festival winners. The 2021 meeting will need to go much better if he is to claim a maiden Trainers’ Championship.
Horses which can help Skelton close the gap next season
Plans will already be being drawn up for the 2020/21 National Hunt season by the Lodge Hill Farm trainer. He will be hoping some of his novices from the previous campaign step up into nice horses.
Allmankind arguably ran the best of Skelton’s runners at the Festival in March when finishing third in the JCB Triumph Hurdle after making the running to the second last. The Champion Hurdle is likely to be the main target for the horse next season where he is 50/1 with Betfair, who have betting on the next horse races at the Festival.
Third Time Lucki is another horse which showed a lot of promise in his first campaign on the track last season. He was fourth in the Weatherbys Champion Bumper, a respectable run which came after back-to-back wins at Market Rasen and Huntingdon respectively. The gelding will be expected to feature over hurdles next season, with a possible shot at the Skybet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at the end of it.
Skelton will also be hopeful that Roksana can be a big player in the mares’ division in the 2020/21 campaign. The eight-year-old finished fourth of nine runners in the Mares’ Hurdle, which was won by Honeysuckle. Roksana prevailed in that race in 2019 so has proved her class before.
It may be unfair to remark that Skelton places less emphasis on the Hunter Chase division that every Point-to-Point rider aspires to. His former boss and mentor Paul Nicholls is steeped in a West Country Pointing tradition, with the Ston Easton course that houses the Mendip Farmers fixture just a few miles from the yard. Undoubtedly, having the Barber connection, as well as horses from top amateur David Maxwell plays a part, but Skelton is based in the heart of Pointing country. Finding a horse good enough for the three key Foxhunter Chases shouldn’t be beyond him.
It won’t be an easy task for Skelton as he looks to leapfrog Nicholls and Henderson next season, especially in a year when he won’t be able to achieve a head start around summer jumps courses like Stratford and Worcester; last season, he had already racked up 43 winners by September 1st.However, he now has well over 100 horses in his yard. If he continues to get the best out of all of his runners, a first Trainers’ Championship title shouldn’t be ruled out in the near future.