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Skelton brothers continue to set the pace





The Dan Skelton-trained Red Tornado jumps the last in the Mid Warwickshire Cleaning & Charles Peters Recruitment Handicap Hurdle at Stratford Racecourse on Sunday. Photo: David Pratt
The Dan Skelton-trained Red Tornado jumps the last in the Mid Warwickshire Cleaning & Charles Peters Recruitment Handicap Hurdle at Stratford Racecourse on Sunday. Photo: David Pratt

THE jumps season may be less than three months old, but there is already a familiar look to the championship tables as Warwickshire-based Dan and Harry Skelton are again setting the early pace, writes David Hucker.

Assistant to ten-times champion trainer Paul Nicholls before setting up on his own, Dan reached the 50-winner mark on 4th August last season when Wynford scored at Bangor on-Dee, but he achieved that milestone a month earlier this time with the success of Virgilio, the third leg of a four-timer at Uttoxeter on 1st July.

He finished last season with a career-best 156 winners but, with the trainers’ title decided on prize money, the £1.7m earned for his owners only put him in third place behind Nicky Henderson and Nicholls.

A treble at Stratford on Sunday took his score for the 2018-19 season to 63, with over £490,000 in win and place prize money.

Although he is operating at a 32 per cent strike rate and has already run 96 individual horses, he may not yet have the ammunition to see off the challenge of Henderson as he brings out his stable stars later in the year.

Boosted by the form of his brother’s horses, Harry has opened up a lead over three-times champion Richard Johnson in the jockeys’ standings and bookmakers Paddy Power cut his odds on a first title from 6-1 to just 5-4.

Although having topped the table briefly last season, Skelton was playing catch-up to Johnson for most of the time, eventually finishing third with a career-best total of 131 compared to the champ’s 176.

This time, the situation is different as, despite riding fewer horses, Skelton’s 35 per cent strike-rate has seen him notch up 61 winners already, with his half-century coming on Hatcher at Stratford on 3rd July.

With that horse scoring again back at the course on Sunday, he is currently 25 ahead of Johnson, who was also in treble-winning form at Southwell, and 33 in front of Brian Hughes.

If Skelton can maintain this rate, then Sir Anthony McCoy’s record for the fastest ever century of winners for a National Hunt season, which he set on the John Ferguson-trained Arabic History at Newton Abbot on 21st August 2014, could be within reach.

Johnson will have a wider range of trainers to call on as the season unfolds, whereas just two of Skelton’s winners last season were from outside stables, through Kerry Lee and Oliver Greenall. His chances of lifting the crown could very much depend on how many extra winning rides his agent Ian Popham can book him.



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