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Skelton optimistic about his team's chances ahead of Cheltenham Gold Cup

TRAINER Dan Skelton believes the team he is sending to this year’s Cheltenham Festival is the best he has ever had in terms of quality – and he is dreaming of Protektorat winning the Boodles Cheltenham Gold Cup, a race he describes as “the pinnacle of the sport”.

Speaking in front of the media at his Lodge Hill stables in Alcester last week, the 36-year-old was enthusiastic about Protektorat, who is part-owned by former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson, and positive about the chances of both Nube Negra in the Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase and Shan Blue in the Ryanair Chase.

Since taking out a licence in the 2013-14 season, Skelton has gone on to enjoy four Festival victories, having landed the County Hurdle on three occasions (Superb Story 2016, Mohaayed 2018, Ch’tibello 2019) and the Mares’ Hurdle with Roksana in 2019.

Referring to the squad he has prepared for the four-day Festival that starts on Tuesday, Skelton said: “This is significantly the best team we’ve had in terms of quality. To have players in the three big chases I think almost highlights where we have got to and where we are continuing to aim at. I’d love to have a couple more novice hurdlers going, but you can only run the horses that are good enough to go there and stand up to the fire.

“I’d love to win a Gold Cup. I think the Gold Cup is the pinnacle of our sport and it is the one that says you had the best horse on the day at the biggest track and everyone was watching. The public adoration of winning a Grand National with Neptune Collonges when I worked with Paul (Nicholls) blew us away.

“We were fairly used to a lot of attention with Kauto Star, Denman, Master Minded and Big Buck’s and we thought we were ready for it, and that happened and it was like, ‘wow’ – it was a different experience.

“Every winner has a story, but the fact that Neptune Collonges immediately retired, was a grey and he won by such a small distance, it all added into to it, to make it a phenomenal experience, but the Gold Cup does just have that aura about it. A Gold Cup-winning rider or trainer – if you can say that then not everyone can.

He added: “The more I do this job the more level I become as you can’t have catastrophic highs and depressing lows.

“If [Protektorat] goes there and gives it his all and finishes third he has done his best. If he goes there and wins and it is meant to be then great. I’ll be distraught if he goes and finishes eighth and never looks threatening.”

Dan Skelton’s Festival contingent:

Protektorat (Boodles Cheltenham Gold Cup)

Nube Negra (Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase)

Shan Blue (Ryanair Chase)

Third Time Lucki (Sporting Life Arkle Novices’ Chase)

Spiritofthegames (Cheltenham Plate Handicap Chase)

Ch’tibello (Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle)

Too Friendly (Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle)

Unexpected Party (Coral Cup)

Nurse Susan (Parnell Properties Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle)

Elle Est Belle (Parnell Properties Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle)

Doctor Parnassus (JCB Triumph Hurdle)

West Cork (McCoy Contractors County Handicap Hurdle)

Ballygrifincottage (Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle)

Langer Dan (Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle)

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