Harry Skelton: The Big Christmas Debrief

Sunday, December 26

I was at Wetherby on Boxing Day where my first ride was a winner on Galia Des Liteaux in the Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle. It was a really nice performance from her. It’s quite hard when you inherit a horse from somewhere else as you have to change their feed and they have to fit into the new routine. We’ve never really run one as quickly after joining us, but she’s a five-year-old and she’d settled in well. I think there’s a lot to come from her, she’s a chaser in the making really, but there’s a race at Doncaster for her at some point which we’ll take a look at. 

Unexpected Party was the one that got away over Christmas, I would love to have another go at that one. I just didn’t get the stride I wanted at the last and I felt that got me beat. He’d travelled and jumped really well up to that point – I’m sorry for anyone who backed him. We think he’s still a progressive horse, he’s lightly-raced and is going the right way. He looks to have a good future ahead of him.

Bridget rode a couple of winners down at Market Rasen. Lydford got the job done nicely, he’s taken well to hurdling. He was a good horse on the Flat and is improving all the time. I’m not sure where we’ll go with him yet but we think he’ll handle better ground, so we’ll think about targets in the spring.  

Tokay Dokey bumped into a good horse of Venetia Williams’ at Warwick the time before who has gone on to win at Ascot. The handicapper gave our horse a chance in this to be fair and it was good to get his head in front after a long lay-off prior to this season. As long as the wheels stay on, he can keep progressing. We’ve always thought a lot of him. 

The King George was a bit of a funny race. Minella Indo didn’t run his race, something didn’t seem quite right with him. What it showed was you can never underestimate one of Willie Mullins’ horses. He got a good ride from Danny Mullins, who seemed to let them get on with it and challenged at the right time. You go so quickly at Kempton that you need that blend of speed and stamina. You have to be able to see out the trip.  

Bravemansgame was a very impressive winner in the Kauto Star. He jumped really well and the further he went the better he got. He’s done everything they’ve asked of him and he looks an exciting horse for the future. 

Monday, December 27

It was great to ride a treble at Wetherby on the Monday. Midnight River jumped well in the main and it was good to get him back on track in the Novices’ Handicap chase. He’s still a bit of a work in progress, but the ability is there. 

Conditions were in Eclair D’Ainay’s favour in the Castleford. He loves two miles on heavy ground. You could see what he can do when he gets his perfect set up. The handicapper has had his say but when things are right he’s very capable.  

Grey Dawning is a really nice horse and we’d liked what we’d seen at home, although it was a little bit of a surprise to see him win. It’s asking quite a lot for a four-year-old Flemensfirth to win first time out as they are generally late maturing types. He’s very much a horse for the future and we’ll look after him, but you couldn’t fail to be impressed. 

Down at Kempton, Shishkin was very good in the Desert Orchid. The team think there’s plenty more to come and you’d have to listen to that as they know the horse so well. It was a great start to his season and he’s out of the top drawer. 

It was another good performance by Edwardstone in the Wayward Lad – he seems to be getting things together. Alan King and his team have always held him in high regard. 

Tuesday, December 28

Galvin did really well to win the Savills Chase at Leopardstown, he’s proved that he’s a top-class chaser. Davy Russell lifted him home as we’ve seen him do plenty of times before. A Plus Tard ran very well again and he was a brilliant winner of the Betfair Chase in November. The Irish look to have the strongest hand with the three-mile chasers, but they haven’t run against Protektorat yet! He’s in great form, he’s just had a quiet time since Aintree. I’d have thought we’ll head straight to the Gold Cup now. 

Galopin Des Champs was ultra-impressive in the novice chase, he jumped great. I think poor Langer Dan bumped into one in the Martin Pipe last year! Our horse got held up a bit in the autumn, but he’s fine and we’ll see him out in the spring. 

Wednesday, December 29

We were delighted with West Balboa in the Challow Hurdle on only her second start under rules. We thought she was quite good and the others had a lot more experience. We’ve got a lot to look forward to with her, she’s going to be a high-class mare in time. There’s Grade 1 over two and a half miles at Fairyhouse in the spring which we’ll keep an eye on. 

Thursday, December 30

It was annoying to just get touched off with Ashtown Lad at Haydock. He was a lot happier on the slower ground, he jumped great and just got outrun by a good horse on the day. There were no complaints, it was nice to see him run a good race as he’s been a bit in and out in the past.

Blaklion was unbelievable in the Last Fling Chase. From his first run at Bangor I can’t believe what he’s done this season. Fair play to his owner Darren Yates, he was keen to come here. We’re not sure where we’ll go next but he’s come out of the race fine.

He’s a credit to himself, a joy to have around and he clearly loves his job. It was absolutely brilliant for the horse and undoubtedly one of the highlights over Christmas. Darren really deserved a good day like that, he puts a lot into it and days like that are what he’s in it for. 

Saturday, January 1

Cheltenham on New Year’s Day is always a great atmosphere and we were happy enough with Get A Tonic in the Listed novices’ hurdle. She feels probably more of a three miler in the making. The front two just quickened away from me as we turned in and she kept galloping rather than quickening. It was good to see there was a decent gap back to the fourth. We’ll look at three miles next season, she’s a good mare and is improving all the time.

Alnadam ran well in the big handicap chase, I just felt I was in top gear the whole way round. He really needs it heavy over two and a half miles. We ran him over three miles last season and on his run at the weekend I think you can see why. There’s another two and a half mile race for him on Trials Day which we’ll look at but he’ll want it only just raceable – the wetter the better for him. His owners have sat patiently throughout the autumn because it’s been so dry, but hopefully a win is on the horizon. 

It looked like it was going to be a good race between Brewin’upastorm and Stormy Ireland when Brewin’upastorm fell at the last. He was a bit unfortunate, I thought he was going there to win it, but the mare is tough and she didn’t stop galloping all the way to the line. It was that man Willie Mullins again. McFabulous ran a very good race and I’d keep him onside. I’d say there’s a lot of improvement to come.

This week 

We’re very quiet this week with just the one entry at Sandown on Saturday. Redzor will be our only runner. He’s had a long layoff and while we expect him to run well, win, lose or draw, he’ll improve for it. All the horses have had their flu jabs and an easy time after Christmas, so this is always a quiet time of the season for us. We’ll have a few for Warwick the following week, though.  

Transfer window

With the football transfer window open again, I’ve been asked which two horses I’d buy if I had a blank chequebook. First up would have to be Galopin Des Champs. He looked like he’d been jumping fences all his life at Leopardstown. His potential looks limitless. 

My other would be Constitution Hill who is due to run in the Tolworth at Sandown on Saturday. I fell early in the race he won last time and the speed we went over the first two was very quick. When I watched the replay afterwards I couldn’t believe how he finished the race out after going so strong early on. He looks very, very good. 

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