Harry Skelton: My favourite Cheltenham Festival races

Grosvenor Sport Harry Skelton

There have been some unbelievable races at the Cheltenham Festival down the years. Before I was riding we would go down there for the whole three days, as it was back then.

My first proper memory of the Festival was when Istabraq was pulled up in 2002. It was the year after the foot and mouth outbreak and he’d won the race three straight years from 1998 to 2000. He was a brilliant horse and I was there with Dan and his best mate, Tom Ellis. I haven’t missed a Cheltenham Festival since.

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Hardy Eustace, Champion Hurdle, 2005

I absolutely loved Hardy Eustace because he used to wear his heart on his sleeve. He had won the Champion Hurdle at a massive price for Dessie Hughes and Conor O’Dwyer the year before and he was 7/2 joint-favourite in 2005.

He was just so tough. He wasn’t the classiest or the best, but he had that will to win and he just wanted to win more than the rest.

Paul Carberry came upside after the last on Harchibald absolutely cantering. It was an unbelievable ride but Hardy Eustace outbattled him to win by a neck. Brave Inca was back in third and it was just a brilliant race.

Kauto Star, Cheltenham Gold Cup, 2009

Kauto’s second Gold Cup was very special. To train him to come back to win the Gold Cup after he’d been beaten by Denman the year before was an incredible achievement by Paul [Nicholls]. It had never been done before, so that shows you how hard it was.

I schooled all the big four at Ditcheat – Kauto, Denman, Big Buck’s and Neptune Collonges. Kauto was pure class, his stride was so long that he’d float across the ground up the gallop. It was like one stride to him would have been two or three to any normal horse.

He never exerted himself at home, he always saved a bit. He was so calm and had such a good brain. That’s what really good horses are, those that last are the ones that are a bit laid back. He would be sharp and would never miss anything but he wouldn’t overdo it. I don’t think we’ll ever see one like him again.

Azertyuiop, Champion Chase, 2004

We’ve always been very friendly with the Hales family and I remember being there when Azertyuiop won the Arkle the year before.

It really was a golden era for two-mile chasers then. You had him, Moscow Flyer and Well Chief. They were all really-tough horses and they used to race each other every four to six weeks, you don’t really do that nowadays.

They’d just go at it. The Tingle Creek, Ascot, Newbury, Cheltenham and then even Punchestown. They didn’t miss any battles and Azertyuiop was such a good horse. He was so fast over his fences, he’d brush through the top but never overdid himself and he wasn’t exuberant. He was a top class two miler and tried to be as fast as he could. His feet were so good.

Just a few months after winning the Champion Chase, Azertyuiop was third in the King George behind Kicking King beaten less than four lengths. You couldn’t do that with horses these days really. They were so tough and that’s why I really enjoyed watching them.

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