The excitement is building as attention turns towards what promises to be an enthralling 2017-18 National Hunt season. And with the big races just around the corner we caught up with our new racing ambassador Dan Skelton to get the lowdown on his stable stars.
Skelton’s Lodge Hill base is home to some of the most exciting horses in training and having already started the campaign in rattling form, hopes are high.
As former assistant trainer to Paul Nicholls, Skelton has had the perfect grounding in the game.
And since going out on his own he’s already enjoyed notable successes, not least a first Cheltenham Festival winner with Superb Story in the 2016 Vincent O’Brien County Hurdle, and last year’s Ladbrokes Hurdle victory with Willow’s Saviour.
Here, the Warwickshire-based handler discusses the Rio Gold Racing Club, his aspirations, and his exciting string which could lead to further success.
Over to you, Dan…
Dan Skelton: When dad won at the Olympics in 2016, there were a few clubs around that were taking ambassadors from different sports so I thought ‘Why don’t we do one based on my dad’s success?’.
From there, we created the Rio Gold Racing Club. We’ve had 10 horses and 19 winners with over £100,000 in prize money. That success has given us a real springboard to the summer.
We always like to keep a few in for the summer because we are rather local to the Stratford and Worcester area and Uttoxeter.
The majority of the time the ground has been good or on the slightly quicker side which is totally acceptable for the horses you have in at that time of year.
We are generally finding our horses prefer better ground the more we train them on good surfaces.
I don’t see it as a growing part of my business but I certainly see it as an important part and it allows everybody to keep busy and it keeps turnover up during what would otherwise be lean months. It’s worked well for us.
There is going to come a day when you don’t beat last year’s targets but we still like to think that we are on an ascendency and we’ll try and beat last year’s targets.
This summer has given us a great footing especially on numbers of winners. I am saying let’s beat last year’s total, let’s try and get more graded winners in the bag; let’s find a Grade One winner or two.
What we are really trying to do year-on-year is look at the novice hurdle and novice chase sections and feel that we are at least as strong as we’ve ever been, if not stronger.
It’s important to keep recycling and getting those young horses putting pressure on the older fellas so they keep up the good work.
We’ve got a really good bunch of novice hurdlers and I can only hope that the novice chasers will keep improving.
I see the championship within range but not within immediate reach. I don’t think we will win it this year.
I think Nicky Henderson only has to get Altior, Buveur D’Air and/or Might Bite achieving what they should and he has pocketed over a million quid.
So that puts you in a very difficult position.
What we would like to try and do is lay-up with the likes of Nicky Henderson, Paul Nicholls, Colin Tizzard, Alan King and Philip Hobbs and cement our position amongst them.
It’s not what you win in a day, it’s what you win in a lifetime.
AINTREE MY DREAM
7 bb g Saint Des Saints
He’s going to start at Chepstow on Saturday in a Listed race for novice chasers over two-and-a-half miles. Finian’s Oscar is running, while Paul Nicholls will run Alcala, so it’s going to be a tough race.
I think he will be one of our better novice chasers this season and as the ground softens his chances will increase as well.
AUX PTITS SOINS
7 gr g Saints Des Saints – Reflexion Faite
He comes with a big reputation and plenty of decent form. I think it’s fair to say that he didn’t quite progress to the presumed heights after the Coral Cup, but he still put up good form last season.
He will start in the Yorkshire Hurdle on November 4th at Wetherby.
We’ve options available to us after over hurdles and fences and He’s obviously a very good horse and a great horse to have on the team.
BEAST OF BURDEN
8 ch g Flemensfirth – Nuit Des Chartreux
Beast of Burden is new to us. At home he’s obviously a horse with talent. But we have to get to the bottom of whatever it is that’s ailing him to run moderately.
We wouldn’t expect to see him for six weeks, and we want to get him on some softer ground. We’ll get him a race where he is the best horse obviously.
4 b g Fastnet Rock – Gemstone
He won last week at Bangor and hopefully goes to Cheltenham in the October meeting.
Given his juvenile form and the way he won around Warwick, we’d like to imagine he’d rank highly as a novice hurdler.
8 b g Flemensfirth – Bekkaria
He is back after doing some high suspensory damage but he’s working well.
He’s not one that you’re going to see in two weeks’ time but he definitely won’t be out until November anyway. He was going the right way until he got his injury so he could be a horse for later on in the season.
5 b g Presenting – Raitera
He won a couple of weeks ago at Warwick where he concentrated on getting his act together. He’s going to go to Cheltenham next for the October meeting .This time he’s got a penalty to carry.
Decent ground is a must. He will eventually go down the chasing route.
6 b g King’s Theatre – Bob’s Flame
I feel like there’s unfinished business with this horse. He was very impressive as a novice on a couple of occasions but it was frustrating last year if I’m honest. I know it’s in there, but it wasn’t coming out.
It looked like he might be about to win the hurdle race at Kelso before he came down two out. After that he ran just OK at the festivals in the spring.
Being straight up and honest, we are giving him a wind op because we want to give him the best chance to show on the track over fences what we think he’s capable of.
6 ch g Golan – Times Have Changed
He’s got plenty of talent. He didn’t make life easy for himself when he had a bad fall at Wetherby.
Maybe he learnt from that and thought “well, I can’t carry on that way.” He’s in good form at home and he’ll go to Chepstow on Sunday in the three-mile Novices’ Chase. We’ll aim to build from there.
We have protected him a little but now the gloves are off and he’s got to go out there and get stuck in becausehe’s big enough and strong enough now.
6 b g Sageburg – Neicha
He’s our highest rated hurdler and a horse that we’re all very excited about.
We’re yet to know where we start with him. He didn’t get the chance to finish the season with an injury at the back end of the year, just before the Champion Hurdle, and he wasn’t quite right afterwards.
He’s a horse who I want to have for the spring rather than going all guns blazing in the autumn.
7 b m Teofilo – Windmill
Amazing! She is a credit to us. I was really impressed with her at Uttoxeter and with pretty decent opposition I was surprised at how authoritative she was.
She’s given the owners plenty and we will go for listed Mares’ Chase at Market Rasen next.
The only thing that worries me is she’s going back right-handed again which doesn’t really suit her. If she goes to Market Rasen and she doesn’t want to right-handed, then we’ll revert to left-handed and wait for our races to turn up.
She is going there because it’s a Listed race for mares and she deserves that. As of yet she’s looked like the best mare among novice chasers.
GET ON THE YAGER
7 B G Tamure – Florentino
He was a fantastic novice hurdler for us last year. He ran in a Grade One at Aintree but he probably isn’t a Grade One horse.
Coming out of the race however, I felt like that wasn’t his running. He’s a very honest horse. He tries his hardest and there are lots of races to be run with him.
If he can’t get his chance in the graded chases, then I’m sure he’ll stay in handicap chases.
5 ch g redback – Vale Of Honor
He created a great impression on his first ever start for us. He then ran nicely at Cheltenham in the Fred Winter without winning. He had last year off and will go chasing at some point.
I’m going to start him off in the Elite Hurdle at Wincanton, as long as the grounds good and then we’ll go from there.
He’s a great big horse and was always a horse who was going to improve physically.
7 b g Flemensfirth – Gleaming Spire
He only ran four times last year and I had it in my mind that he’d run at lot more. I’m not saying that we forgot about him but I was particularly disappointed with what happened at Newbury.
We had a particularly hard race and he just couldn’t really maintain his form after that. He’s at least a middle-distance horse, just not a stayer.
LISTEN TO THE MAN
7 b m Court Cave – Badia Dream
She was amazing the other day at Market Rasen. Ian Popham gave her a great ride, she showed plenty of pace, and I’ll go to Ascot with her next for a listed handicap hurdle.
At some point she’s going to be destined to have a break because there is now way I am running her on soft ground.
She’s an improved horse and she spent 12 months where nothing was going right.
She was getting beat when going off short odds-on. She just wasn’t there at all but she’s turned a corner now and she’s off!
LONG HOUSE HALL
9 b g Saddlers’ Hall – Brackenvale
He’s fragile and everyone can see that from his record but he’s very talented. I’m going to try and have him ready for the December Gold Cup at Cheltenham.
He’s won over hurdles around there, he won the Listed Market Rasen race last summer and when they change track for the December meeting, it’s usually a lot better ground so that will suit him as well.
8 b g Zagreb – Muckle Flugga
At times I could cry for that horse. He has plenty of ability but no bloody luck! It’s my fault he got beat at Cheltenham. I told Harry to ride him too prominently. He’s definitely a hold up horse. It doesn’t matter if you’re over 5f or 15 miles, you’ve got to hold him up.
The debate we’re having now is what his trip is and whether he’s an out and out two miler or a two-and- a-half-mile horse.
5 b g Intikhab – Reyaada
He’s a lovely horse who did really well for us last year. He scooted in at Taunton where it was his to lose. He then ran really well at Cheltenham and Ayr before winning a race that was probably unlosable at Market Rasen.
That was a great opportunity for him to go and have little confidence boost and he enjoyed that. We will run him fresh in the Greatwood Hurdle. He’s off a nice mark where he won’t have top weight but he’s guaranteed to get in.
We will plan his season from there really. I don’t see him as a soft/heavy ground horse so I’ll be picking and choosing his targets. He’s got his experience now and jumps nicely. We don’t need to be running him every three weeks.
NORTH HILL HARVEY
6 b g Kayf Tara – Ellina
He won the Greatwood Hurdle last year at Cheltenham and we are going start him over fences there at the October meeting.
In the County Hurdle last year he was just doing too much the whole way and didn’t get home, then he flattened out at Aintree so it was a disappointing end to the season.
However, let’s not forget the positives at the start of the season when he won the Greatwood. I hope we can make him into a really good novice chaser.
6 b g Central Park – Top Of The Class
He really got it together last year and won plenty. He’s really progressive.
He will run this week over hurdles and then we will go to the Old Roan for his first big assignment of the year. We hope he can step up now.
5 b g Deportivo – Diluvienne
He has been second in two pretty competitive hurdles for us. We believe over fences he can be a real exuberant two miler and I think he has a fair chance of being a horse that’s hard to keep up with on decent ground.
Over fences I think he can do really well. We will just start a bit low with him to start and then build up.
6 ch g Flemensfirth – Fugal Maid
He’s a great horse. At home he is very workman like and he loves it.
He won his only run for us when bolting up at Catterick. He’ll start at Wetherby as long as the ground is soft enough on the October 18th and then go from there.
He won’t be hanging around in the hurdles really as he wants to be getting going over fences. That’s where he will earn his crust.
5 b g Shantou – Cool Cool
He starts today at Newton Abbot and he’s Hopefully a horse that can progress over fences.
He was remarkable in the spring in how he got going and hopefully we’re not finished with progression.
He’s only a young horse so hopefully there is more to come.
9 b g Darsi – Lady Pep
He is going to run at Newton Abbot on October 13th over hurdles. He’s hopefully going to be a horse who can test all those long distance chasers because he is very genuine.
We’ve not run him over fences yet but I hope that he can be a horse that can do really well over those long distances.
6 b g Presenting – Bolly
He was very good first time, then he did bad second time, won third time, and was particularly bad fourth time. He lacks the consistency!
That was only his first season at it so I’m willing to just say don’t worry, with time will come that consistency. He is destined for fences and he’s a hell of a jumper.
He’s really bred to do it as well and I hope he can go and be a real force.
STICK TO THE PLAN
5 b g Gold Well – Chloes Choice
Obviously Southwell was disaster. It wasn’t like Bridget Andrews gave him a bad ride, it’s just one of those things and it won’t happen again. We have to move on.
He’s a horse that has visibly progressed from last season. He looked a lot better a horse the other day over three miles.
He’ll go to the October meeting at Cheltenham for the 3m Novice Hurdle and we’ll think about where we go from there.
7 b g Flemensfirth – Friendly Craic
He’s a horse that we’ve always held in high regard. Last year he won a nice race at Market Rasen but overall I’ve always kind of thought it’s not happened today and there’s an excuse for this or an excuse for that.
He never really got a comfortable feel out of the whole job. It felt like we were underachieving with him or he wasn’t quite living up to expectations.
He’s actually changed owners and we are going to go down the handicap route and let him try that out.
I believe that there is plenty more races to be won with him.
6 b g Milan – Supreme Evening
He runs in Perisan War at Chepstow on Sunday. He’s a real nice horse, a highly rated maiden and I think he’s got a big future.
He’s not just one of those with loads of intelligence and just going to jump straight into the bridle.
It might still be that he’s improving. He’s by far from the finished article but he has certainly got plenty of ability.
7 b g Flemensfirth – Rich Mermaids
He’s a very classy horse, who got his act together at Ayr. He loves that track.
He’s a horse who I want to aim at the Gold Cup in November and I’d like to run him in the Novice Chase at Cheltenham during the October meeting. We just hope to get a bit of rain for it.
VALUE AT RISK
8 b g Kayf Tara – Miss Orchestra
People get bored of me talking about this horse but he is a horse who has unfinished business.
He’s a better horse than he’s been showing in his last few runs. I just hope that we get it together and he gets his luck.
8 b g Denham Red – Liesse De Marbeuf
What a fantastic horse! He’s just as hard as nails and loves to run for you. He’s going to run first time up in the Charlie Hall. If he’s ever going to win a race like that, it’s going to be first time up so we’ve got to be bold and give it a go.
He isn’t going to start favourite but he puts his best foot forward and tries his hardest for us.
He deserves a crack at this type of race and what we will say is that if it’s obvious that he’s not open to graded material, then we will just stick to the handicap route with him.
He’s a horse that will always try hard and we have to respectful of the horse. He’s highly likely to over try so we have to almost protect him from himself.
5 b m Presenting – Smooching
She runs in the Silver Trophy Handicap Hurdle on Saturday and is definitely taking a step forward from last season.
She signed the season off with a real goof run in a very competitive race at Ayr so everything is primed and ready for next week so I won’t be having too many excuses.
9 b g Network – Danhelis
Good old boy! It didn’t work out at Fontwell for us which I would’ve loved to have won.
Now we have to be a bit clever with race planning and try our best to win another race with him.
5 b g Robin Des Champs – Sarah Massini
Al Shahir is a lovely horse who won at Newcastle with soft ground.
He’s not soft ground dependent but I do think he likes it. He’s very much a jumper.
4 b g Mamool – Aughamore Beauty
He’s a lovely horse. I’d be highly surprised if he can’t make a bit of an impact in novice hurdles.
I’m not saying that he’s going to be a top class novice hurdler but I’d be surprised if he can’t make a dent in them and go on to be a better chaser. Plenty to look forward to.
6 gr g Kapgarde – Kaldonna
Really high class horse that has been fragile. If the wheels can stay on then everyone can see how good he could be.
BLACK SAM BELLA
5 b m Black Sam Bellamy – Newton Mo
She stays very well. I can see her being a horse that goes and runs in the middle to longer distances mares’ novices’ hurdles.
We’ll probably look to as high a standard as you can get based on what we’ve seen so far. Those type of races are perfect for her because she’ll go and give a good run in them.
I’m not saying she’s going to be a Grade One horse but for the mares’ novices’ hurdle ones that are around I think that there’s no reason why she can’t be lining up in them.
B g Milan – Daraheen Diamond
He’s got plenty of reputation from Ireland. He got a big number when he won a point-to- point.
He’s very workmanlike at home. Obviously he wants his trip and there’s plenty of room for improvement.
5 b m King’s Theatre – La Dame Brune
We gave her a run in a bumper last year so the owners can see there is something to look forward to.
She galloped all the way to the line and got outpaced by a couple. I’m not worried about that bumper run, it was just something for everyone to see and to show that there’s plenty to look forward to.
She will end up being a chaser and she’ll be ready in two or three weeks so we can take it from there. We are particularly happy with our mares division. We’ve got a good bunch.
5 b g Dubai Destination – Gayephar
He’s a funny horse. No disrespect but if I showed five horses at random and said pick the one that’s unbeaten, I’d say the majority of people would pick four others before picking him.
He’s very workmanlike, he isn’t flashy or showy, and he just gets on with his job. He’s super tough and loves to run and jump.
He did well to win a bumper at Taunton because that wouldn’t be his track. He’ll start at Chepstow on Saturday in a Novices’ Hurdle.
I think he’ll probably want further than two miles. If he gets beat in two, then we will step up in trip but
I’d be loath to run him over two-and-a-half and he runs into a hole because he’s so genuine. He’s just a lovely horse to train.
5 b g Khalkevi – Viana
He’s got bundles of pace and like I said before, for the moment we’ve just got to stick to flat tracks.
We learned that at Cheltenham. Time and time again I wouldn’t have gone there, I would have gone to Aintree but that’s by-the-by now.
He’s so fast over hurdles and is probably about two or three weeks off starting.
4 b g Voix Du Nord – Razia
If there is ever a horse that I’m convinced we got wrong last year, Destrier is this horse. Something happened; I don’t know what, he just got to the track and he was as mad as a wasp and pulled like a hooligan.
He never gave himself a chance to run well but has shown very well at home and continues to do so.
I’m not going to talk him up because at the end of the day he’s had one bit of form that suggests that he’s not that good.
However his homework is very different to that run and I would like to think that he goes and just erases that from his record now.
5 b g Beneficial – Rowlands Star
We probably rode him all wrong at Warwick. We have to make this horse into more of a race horse because he probably is one that just pulls and pulls and sort of uses himself up a lot.
He’ll be ready to start this week at Worcester over two miles. He undoubtedly wants the trip in time but we have to teach him the way to race.
4 b g Doyen – African Keys
He has bundles of speed and loves a bit of good ground. He could go to Kempton on the 22nd.
HEAR NO EVIL
5 b g Getaway – Listening
I really like this horse; he’s really nice to work with and very genuine. This horse was learning his trade in bumpers last year because he’s such a big horse. He’s quite a heavy topped horse and is just going to need time.
I’d be surprised if there’s not going to be more improvement to come after this year because he is just one of those horses who is destined to be a chaser.
Having said that I want to see him go and get off the mark over hurdles and progress. I am very confident about the horse, I like him a lot.
b m King’s Theatre – La Marianne
She obviously has a great reputation and she’s going to be a much watched mare. I do think she will do well as a novice hurdler but that’s not the be all and end all.
I think she’s going to be a particularly good chaser the following year so I might even start off at Newbury on November 9 and from there we will find out where we stand.
Two miles probably won’t be her trip. She will probably want further but why not start there and work up. She is very exciting and hopefully we can make her into a good horse.
5 ch m Sholokhov – Missing Link
She’s a very tough mare. We thought she’d go very well at Newton Abbot but didn’t exactly think could only win.
There was quite a good mare she took on that day, but she was very authoritative and jumped very well with a great attitude.
Harry came back in beaming and full of praise for her so we were very happy and I think she can go forward. She will probably be one for spring targets.
We won’t be able to get her in the best mares’ races pre-new year because they are all over a shorter distance. Once we get into the spring, we are in business.
MOLLLY THE DOLLY
6 b m Flemensfirth – Pistol Flash
She’s a lovely big mare by Flemensfirth. She jumps very well, has a good attitude, and showed nicely in a couple of bumpers before she joined us.
I have reasonably high hopes for her but again like Maire Banrigh, she’s not going to be a mare that’s at her best as a hurdler, she is going to be a chaser.
NOT THAT FUISSE
4 b g Fuisse – Edelmira
We fancied him for his bumper at Warwick but we were particularly impressed with how he won.
He sped up really well, showed loads of gears and lots of positives. I actually think his jumping is bold, he jumps like a chaser, so there’s a lot to come from him.
He’s a full brother to Ballabriggs and I think he’s going to take as much time as his brother did. We all dream of reaching the heights of his brother but we’re not going to get carried away.
It would be lovely to think it can happen. He’s a lovely young horse, who is very raw and very childish.
There’s an engine under there, no question, I just wouldn’t expect to see it come flooding out. It could be three, four or even more runs, for the penny to drop with this one. He’s a real kid!
A great, big, long-range horse who is definitely going to make a chaser more than a hurdler.
Given his authoritative display in an English point-to-point, you’d think we wouldn’t be going into a hurdle really. I should imagine he won’t have a hard year over hurdles for the sake of it.
He’s very much a chaser and we take the approach that we are going to buy these young horses. You’ve got to maintain that patient approach.
5 b m Dubai Destination – Talktothetail
She has lots of ability, jumps very well, and she will start off over hurdles this week at Chepstow.
She’s got quite a forward attitude so I can see her doing a little too much and she needs to learn a little but it’s under there.
4 br g Arcadio – Hidden reserve
He’s a very classy horse with lots of pace. It’s a bit of mystery as to what happened in his point-to- point.
Did he unseat? Did he run into a bollard? Did he go the wrong side? I don’t know.
Forget what happened, this is a good horse. He’s going to take a bit of managing, he makes you work in the morning and he jumps very well. I reckon he should be ready to go in about three weeks.
WHISKEY IN THE JAR
5 b b Oscar – Baie Barbara
He took us by surprise at Warwick with how well he won his bumper.
We were all told that he was very good from his previous trainer but we thought he was very workmanlike and didn’t think he would be flashy.
Sure enough he showed he’s a very exciting horse. His jumping is good but will only get better. He’s not the finished article but a very talented animal.
All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing