Dan Skelton watched Third Time Lucki maintain his unbeaten record over fences on day two of the November Meeting – then described his jockey brother Harry Skelton as his “striker” and backed him to continue scoring “goals”.
Just 24 hours earlier trainer Skelton watched My Drogo and rider Harry fall two fences from home, in similar circumstances to Shan Blue two weeks earlier in the Charlie Hall Chase at Wetherby.
But an impressive round of jumping from Third Time Lucki in the From The Horse’s Mouth Podcast Novices’ Chase put a smile back on the brothers’ faces this afternoon.
Having made a winning chase debut at Cheltenham 22 days ago, the six year old never looked likely to get beaten in the two mile contest, coming home the comfortable four and three-quarter length victor to justify 2-5 favouritism.
Winning trainer Skelton said: “I was just jesting with the guys then that it’s nice to get a clear round!
“Harry said it felt fantastic. He feels like he’s a horse with a lot of natural pace. During my apprenticeship with Paul (Nicholls) Ruby (Walsh) always used to talk about the difference between speed and pace and in a race pace is so important because you can go at your speed very, very comfortably and he can do that. He can go at a speed through the race that he’s just in second gear in and that’s great.
“Basically, going down the hill Harry started getting him under control from three out and two out and then from the back of the last I think he’s a bit lonely and pricking his ears. He made it a bit harder work today than visually he did the first day and I know it’s all trainer chat but he was actually fitter for the first day than he was for the second day.
“I just did a lot with him for the first day (in October). He’s a very exuberant horse and I didn’t want to have him too fresh for the first day so I pressed him a bit for the last couple of weeks so he wasn’t going to be too fresh in October. I trusted him between then and now and I’ve done less with him and I think he’s probably just jumped the last and took a bit of a blow.
“Originally the plan was to go here and then go Henry VIII. Whether that’s definitely going to happen now, I just need to talk to Mike (owner). I could leave him until Kempton.
“I thought he was excellent. With Harry in command from the back of three out he was going to make sure he had a good stride three out and Harry held on to him. He made sure he had a good safe jump two out. I think from the back of the last he has got a bit lonely and he has probably made a bit harder work of it than he did the last day but I’m not too worried about that.
“That was important. At the end of the day we are professionals and sometimes things are going to go for you and some things are going to go against you. A few things have gone against us recently but at the same time Allmankind won. Water doesn’t always run in your ditch but there is no point stamping your feet and chucking your toys out about it and getting angry at everybody. That’s how it goes. People miss puts on the final green to win a Masters. Bigger things happen than a horse tripping over two out. The horse is fine so we move on.
“Harry is more important to be honest with you as he is your striker and you need him to score goals and a few big goals and he has.”
Winning jockey Harry Skelton added: “He was brilliant again and jumped great, he’s got so much natural pace. He’s two from two now and still has his perfect record, so it’s good and we move on to the next one.”
Owner Mike Newbould said: “It was a great race last time and that just confirms what we thought and he is going to be okay I think.
“Until the Irish come over, we don’t know what will happen. The beauty about this guy is that he is quick. Even the first race we looked at the splits and he was running like a five-furlong sprinter. Dan thinks we need a little bit more cut in the ground. He is going to improve and the more we run him the better he will get.
“I wanted to go for the Henry VIII at Sandown but Dan said that is out of the question. He runs better fresh and I think the Kingmaker is a far better route. The Henry VIII, I like the race and I would like to follow the Altior route but I think the Kingmaker would be about right.
“We want to be here in March and at our best in March and I think he will be. If anybody will get him right it is this guy. I can’t believe how calm Harry is today as if nothing happened yesterday. He is just a true professional.
“We are fortunate we have three or four in the same category and we have West Cork tomorrow who could be anything. I personally have him a notch up from this guy but he had that injury and we will see tomorrow. I just can’t believe we’ve had another Cheltenham winner and it is proper Cheltenham today.”
Meanwhile trainer Milton Harris has had has string in tremendous form recently and he celebrated his 27th winner of the campaign when Knight Salute landed the opening Grade Two JCB Triumph Trial Juvenile Hurdle under Paddy Brennan.
The 9-2 chance travelled smoothly throughout the extended two-mile contest and after taking a narrow advantage at the last, stayed on well up the hill to see off the challenge of 50-1 outsider Saint Riquier by two and three-quarter lengths. Today was Knight Salute’s third victory over hurdles from as many starts.
While Harris is no stranger to Grade Two success at Cheltenham, his last such victory was 17 years ago when Mondul landed the Grade Two Finesse Juvenile Hurdle on Festival Trials Day in 2004.
The Warminster handler said: “Things are going alright. It has been a long road. It is quite emotional as it has been a tough road. He is a good horse and he has got a bit of pace.
“If there is a better tactical rider in the weighing room than Paddy Brennan then I don’t know him. He comes from a different time and I think it is not quite the same weighing room as it was 10 years ago. I just said to him be the last man to go and he actually got there a bit before I thought he would do.
“The filly (Aliomaana, Harris’ other runner in today’s contest who finished fifth) ran a cracker beaten five or six lengths. We might go to something like the Adonis or we might leave him to the spring but he looks like he is alright.
“He had two runs as a two year and was second and first and got a mark of 91 which is not easy for them. Andrew Balding who I brought him off was very open and said to me he is by Sir Percy out of an Unfuwain mare which cries out middle distance on the flat.
“The problem was he was keen at home but we have put ear plugs in him and a hood on him and he switches off better but the young girl that rides him out said if you give him half a chance you will be gone. I said to Paddy if you get to the back of the last with the rest of them you will win because I knew we would be quicker and he was always going to have a bit of toe and that is what happened. It’s nice to have a good horse.
“I’m far more fortunate than some people that don’t get a second chance what with Covid. We’ve got some nice horses and brilliant owners. This horse won’t win a Gold Cup but you never know he might win a Triumph Hurdle. I’m pleased we have a good team and owners. I’m a stubborn so and so but I’m a fighter and that’s the reality. I came from the wrong side of town as a kid so I could fight so you are not going to give up. It’s either in you or not in you.
“The Skeltons were just teasing me and I’ve known them a long time and I said to them ‘when I get a big winner I will just walk away as I want to go on my terms’, but that is not big enough. I’m grateful to be here.”
Jockey Brennan, who punched the air as he passed the line, commented: “It’s just great to have crowds back, that’s why I did that (punched the air).
“Without the people this place is lonely and I knew there was going to be a big crowd today and that I was going to enjoy it.”
Strictlyadancer justified 9-4 favouritism and recorded his second victory at Cheltenham in the space of 22 days when taking the Jewson Tool Hire Amateur Jockeys’ Handicap Chase to hand 19 year old jockey Ben Bromley a first success at the Home of Jump Racing.
The Christian Williams-trained seven year old travelled well throughout the extended three miles and a furlong contest and came home the comfortable two and a quarter length winner.
Williams said: “I’m delighted and he looks to have stepped up from last year and he was great to watch then. The young lad on his back was probably a bit further back than we wanted but he didn’t panic too much and his jumping kept him in the race. He wasn’t too exuberant and came there travelling in a three miles and a furlong race, so it was great.
“I thought he may be the type of horse last year that would win one race a year but it looks as though he may be different this year and staying chasers seem to improve with age with us.
“I don’t know whether he’s strengthened up. Jack (Tudor) did nothing wrong with him at Chepstow first time up and he’s just been unlucky that the two races he’s won have been for amateur riders. His ride at Chepstow probably put the horse in a good place to come to Cheltenham, so it’s a team effort.
“I’m only young myself! People need a chance, Ellis Collier comes into the yard every morning and feeds 35 horses and the boy deserves a chance, so I try and support people working hard in my yard.”
Ben Bromley, celebrating his first Cheltenham success, added: “It is unbelievable and it hasn’t really sunk in yet. When I crossed the line I thought have I actually won it. I can’t describe the feeling of a Cheltenham winner it is unbelievable. You hear everyone say you can’t describe it but I thought they were just saying it for the cameras but you can’t describe it as it is unbelievable.
“I thought I might have hit the front too soon as he idles a bit in front but he didn’t show that today. He has kept on the bridle and taken me into the last two and he has just winged them both. It is a fantastic feeling. I did feel I had enough in reserve after the last as he came up nice and long and stayed on galloping and booted clear. He is a lovely horse to ride.”
Leading bloodstock agent Anthony Bromley, father of the winning rider, added: “I’m totally thrilled for my son and I’m so thankful for Christian giving him the ride. That was a nerve-wracking race to watch.
“To be fair I’d say it went quite smoothly for him. The horse idled a bit at the last meeting and the other one came at him so I did worry a bit if he had gone too soon but he travelled for him. He is very laid back and much more laid back than me. He has definitely got the temperament for it.
“These are very important things for a young lad as it was on television. There is pressure riding a favourite but I don’t think he felt too much of it. Of course this means as much as all those big winners I’ve been associated with as this is your own flesh and blood. When he rides a point-to-point winner it gives me a great buzz. What a great game.”