Harry Skelton: Cheltenham Festival Debrief

Tuesday – Day One

There were no excuses for Too Friendly. He travelled and jumped well, and I thought I had a good chance turning into the home straight, but he just couldn’t quite pick up from the back of the last hurdle. A flatter track and a more strongly run race might help him, but ultimately, he just wasn’t quite good enough on the day. He hasn’t been that busy over the winter, so we’ll have some options for him in the coming months.

Constitution Hill was unbelievably impressive in the Supreme Novices’. I love the way he goes through his races. You could see he was just a little bit behind the bridle and then once Nico [De Boinville] asked him to go he took off. I think we’ve seen a very special horse. Wherever he goes next, he’s going to take a hell of a lot of beating.

Honeysuckle did it again in the Champion Hurdle. She’s so tough, always gives her all and with the mares’ allowance she’s just so hard to beat. Rachael [Blackmore] gave her a brilliant ride once again. If we saw Constitution Hill and Honeysuckle clash – what a race that would be!

In the Arkle, Edwardstone was very good. He’s improved all year; his jumping is much more assured now and he looks the finished article. They’ve got a lot to look forward to with him. I mentioned in my blog before that Alan King isn’t a man who hypes up his horses, but he’d said that this horse was the best he’s had in a long time, and he looks it.

It was nice for the British to win the Mares’ Hurdle. Marie’s Rock picked up well near the finish. She’s got a real turn of foot and is clearly a good mare. We’ve got a bit of a form line with her, as she beat Get A Tonic at Warwick the time before, so we’re looking forward to getting our mare out again.

Wednesday – Day Two

Unexpected Party was disappointing in the Coral Cup. There was obviously a huge amount of rain on the day and that might have affected his chances. I was never quite happy with the way he was travelling. As soon as I turned down the back straight, he was struggling to hold his position and so the right thing to do was to pull him up. I don’t think he’ll be out again this season and we’ll put him away and go chasing with him in the autumn. He’s better than that.

I did think that the Ballymore was the weaker of the novice hurdles and whatever Willie [Mullins] ran in the race was a nap for the week. I think connections chose the right race for Sir Gerhard and he looked very good. He looks a big, strapping horse and we may not see the best of him until he goes chasing.

Charlie Deutsch gave L’Homme Presse a great ride in the Brown Advisory. He gets his horses in such a lovely rhythm. He jumped well up front, controlled the race and proved he stays this trip well. He’s been a massive improver this season and I think there’s more to come. Next season he could be a real contender for the Gold Cup.

Energumene was brilliant in the Champion Chase. I know Shishkin didn’t run his race and was struggling from an early stage, but I think they got the tactics right – trying to come from behind. Paul [Townend] then had to go to plan B once Shishkin wasn’t going. Energumene handled conditions well and proved he goes at Cheltenham, so I’m sure he’ll be back next year and where he should take a bit of beating.

Faclie Vega looks something special. You never know really with these bumper horses until they prove it on the track, but he looks the real deal. He’s a big, scopey horse and I think he should improve once he fills out and gets a bit stronger. He’s in the right hands and has all the ingredients to be very good. I’m sure he’ll be back for the Supreme next year.

Thursday – Day Three

I suppose we were a little bit disappointed with Shan Blue in the Ryanair. He jumped and travelled well but just got a bit tired towards the finish. The ground on the Thursday was a bit tacky and he’s probably better on some nicer ground. A flat track might also be more suitable for him. We’ll go to Aintree now for the three-mile handicap chase, where the ground will be good hopefully and he should go very well there.

In the Plate, I had a great ride on Spiritofthegames. You have to ride him on his terms and take your time on him. I asked him coming down the hill at three out for a jump and he put down on me. That was him putting me back in my place and telling me to sit still! Once he hit the rising ground and started passing a few beaten horses, he really finished strongly. He’s been brilliant and is a credit to himself. I suppose he might go to Aintree now and as long as he’s in form we’ll keep going with him.

Nurse Susan ran a really good race in the Mares’ Novice Hurdle. I knew we were beaten by a very good horse at Lingfield and while I not always right, I was this time, as Love Envoi was a good winner. Nurse Susan jumped and travelled very strongly, but perhaps a bit too well if I’m honest. I would have liked to have come off a stronger pace and had something to aim at. As it was, I just felt we got tapped for a bit of toe after turning in, before staying on at the finish. You won’t see her again this season and we’re going to go chasing next term, which should bring out the best in her. Hopefully she’ll have a good summer out in the field. I really think this is an exciting mare and she’s one for everyone’s notebook.

Allaho just looks virtually unbeatable over two-miles-five-furlongs. He goes a brutal gallop, and his rivals struggle to get close to him. He can maintain that all the way to the finish too, which makes him so hard to beat.

I think connections said they were going to have a full check over of Bob Olinger, and you could see that he wasn’t happy from quite a long way out. It’s unfortune to win in the circumstances that they did, but that’s jump racing and those things happen. Galopin Des Champs was in the process of running a huge race and was going to be a very impressive winner. He did nothing wrong; he was almost foot perfect the whole way round and jumped the last well but just crumped on landing. Al Boum Photo did a similar thing when falling at Cheltenham as a novice, but came back to win two Gold Cups, so sometimes it takes that sort of mistake for them to learn.

Flooring Porter got the ride of the Festival. Danny Mullins was excellent on him, making all and slowing the race up. Over three miles sometimes it’s difficult to decide when to take on front runners, as you don’t want to go too soon. Paisley Park and Thyme Hill both ran well but Flooring Porter was the best horse on the day. He’ll be back next year and he’s going to need an improver to beat him.

Friday – Day Four

Doctor Parnassus ran a good race in the Triumph, finishing only a length behind a Grade One winner in England. A stronger gallop might have seen him get closer, as it turned into a bit of a sprint, which didn’t suit him. I think he’s crying out for a step up in trip now. There will be a good handicap in this horse next season over two-and-a-half miles.

Vauban was very good and just looked the quickest horse in the race. I thought this stiffer track would swing things in Fil Dor’s favour, but Vauban just had too much speed for him. He looks a very impressive horse.

In the County Hurdle, there was another good performance from West Cork. He won the Greatwood in the autumn and it’s hard to win two big handicaps in a season. I was with the winner the whole way round and thought turning in that I would have a real chance, but the handicapper might have him where he wants him now. We might step him up to two-and-a-half miles for another run this spring. That could be at Aintree, or he might go to Ayr, depending on the ground.

Faivoir ran his race and probably performed to the same level as he did at Kelso, as he was only three lengths behind the horse that beat him there. Again, the handicapper has a hold of him and will have to give him more of a chance before you see him win again.

Stepney Causeway just got stuck in the holding ground.

It was a great run from Ballygrifincottage in the Albert Bartlett. It wasn’t my intention to be as far back as I was, but I couldn’t go the gallop and was virtually off the bridle the whole way. This horse stays all day and I let him gradually warm to the race. At the top of the hill I thought I was in with quite a nice chance, but the field started to quicken again when they went down to two out and they just got away from me. I think he’s all about chasing over extreme distances on soft ground. If we get it right with him, there should be plenty of good days to come. He’s a horse to look out for.

The Nice Guy was another winner for Willie Mullins and looks a good chaser in the making. Obviously, Willie won five races on the day and was leading trainer. He has so much quality and strength in depth, and also a fantastic team, which you need to prepare so many horses to peak on the day.

I’m very proud of Protektorat. It’s so hard to prepare and get a horse to the Gold Cup in one piece, let alone run a good race, so it’s an achievement in itself. There are a lot of people who have played their part in getting him there.

The ground was drying out fast on Friday and I would have preferred if Wednesday’s rain had come on Gold Cup Day. If that was the case things might have been a bit different. Stamina definitely isn’t an issue, as he showed when he picked up again after making a mistake at the last fence. He stayed on really strongly and if you watch the finish, he held on to third by a short head, but a stride after the line he’s nearly a neck ahead of Galvin in fourth. Hopefully next year we can go back and have another go. He’s only a seven-year-old and if he got testing ground in another Gold Cup, I think he could finish closer.

We’ll just see how he is before thinking about going to Aintree and the ground would have to be right for him there.

A Plus Tard was just so impressive. He looked to travel round in second gear and was arguably the easiest winner of the week. On that ground he’s absolutely deadly. He sprinted away after the last fence and bolted through the line – it was extraordinary watching the race back. If the ground is like that next year, it’ll take something very special to beat him.

It was brilliant to see Rachael [Blackmore] become the first female winner of the Gold Cup. She had a bad fall on Tuesday, but she’s very tough and bounced back in style. She’s a credit to herself and a fantastic jockey. This is a hard sport for everyone involved, but when you have the talent, as Rachael does, you can shine on through.

Langer Dan was so unfortunate in the Martin Pipe. One of the horses came down in front of him and he just tripped over. From what we’ve seen of him since then, he appears absolutely fine, and he hasn’t experienced any negative effects from that fall. We’ve got a great team of physios and vets who will be monitoring him over the next seven days. We’ll look to go to Aintree with him if everything is in order.

This week

Artemis Kimbo could start out in a bumper at Chepstow on Thursday. We like what we see from her at home, and she looks a nice mare for the future.








Leave a Reply