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WEST CORK DEFIES 631-DAY ABSENCE TO LAND UNIBET GREATWOOD HANDICAP HURDLE FOR THE SKELTONS

14th November 2021 Cheltenham

By Nick Seddon and Graham Clark

West Cork completed a 38-1 double for the Dan and Harry Skelton combination when defying a 631-day absence from the track to land the Grade Three Unibet Greatwood Handicap Hurdle.

Fresh from the success of Nube Negra in the Grade Two Shloer Chase just 35 minutes earlier, trainer Dan Skelton admitted: “That’s about as much fun in the last hour that I’ve ever had on a racecourse.”

Seven year old West Cork is owned by Mike and Eileen Newbould, who saw their colours carried to victory in yesterday’s Grade Two From The Horse's Mouth Podcast Novices' Chase by Third Time Lucki.

Despite not being seen on a racecourse since February 2020, West Cork did not lack for fitness as he got the better in a sustained duel with another 11-1 chance Adagio after the final flight to win by three-quarters of a length.

Dan Skelton said: “This game is definitely not easy, but it’s currently fun! It’s amazing really and professionally I think that’s about as much fun in the last hour that I’ve ever had on a racecourse. It’s been brilliant to have everyone here, the horses have just been magnificent.

“Nube Negra is very special to us because Gracie’s stallion Dink is his sire and then to have a horse to come back off a 600-day lay-off and win a Greatwood is just a great advertisement for the whole team.

“Three weeks ago I decided we’ve got to run Nube Negra here because of the ground and I said to Harry that I couldn’t find one for the Greatwood and he said ‘run West Cork, he wants two miles’.

“We just doubled down on his work over the last three weeks, he worked with Protektorat last week and with Nube Negra this week and I suppose that was a bit of a hint for him running in a handicap after being in with those two. It’s just magic, what a day!”

Grace Skelton, the trainer’s wife said of her husband: “He’s fairly philosophical as a general rule. There are hard days in this sport, but they are countered by really great days like today and that’s part of what we do.

“We’ve got to lead from the front and help bolster our team and we’re fortunate to have a fantastic team. Dan leads them from the front, he shows them that we bounce back for days like today – even after tough ones.”

And jockey Harry Skelton said of the 11-1 winner: “He has had 600 days-plus off the track and that was absolutely fantastic. I’m very lucky to be riding for a very good team and a good leader in my brother. It’s brilliant.

“It was about five weeks ago (when we came up with the Greatwood plan) and I was on my way back from racing with Dan, and our assistant Tom Messenger. It is a great time when we go racing like that as we come back and throw ideas around. We were looking through the entry book and, he (Dan) said, ‘the Greatwood - what do we run?’ and he was scratching his head and I said ‘West Cork’.

“He was second in a Grade Two as a novice. He had last year off and if we got him fit he has a bit of class on his day and he has won there really well.

“He has always shown us a good bit of form but he got a freak little injury and we had to miss last season. Maybe it was a blessing in disguise and things happen for a reason as he is a stronger horse now and he has seen it out well. He has always had a bit of class about him.

“I knew where I wanted to go. He jumped out and ran a bit fresh early on. I just wanted to lock him in behind one to get him to drop the bridle and he did that and to be honest his ears were flickering the whole way round so I knew there was plenty left in the tank. He gave the last a foot and I knew he had plenty left.

“Once I got him upsides that rail away he went. It is exciting but he has a real big one in the bag now and we look forward to the rest of the season.

“I’m glad for Dan as he puts a lot of work into it. We have a lot of horses now and it is hard to take on. There is a lot of pressure on his shoulders but he has a good team around him and we all work well together and I’m glad he can enjoy it when it can. We have got such supportive owners - they are a joy to train for and we are lucky we have such good horses.”

Winning owner Mike Newbould said: “I can’t believe it, that is a training feat and then some. He had 600 days off, he’s been home with us and we fed him like he shouldn’t be fed and Dan’s just Dan – he’s good at what he does.

“He’s rated 134 and we know he’s a 150-plus horse, but he hasn’t run and the weights haven’t gone up. Where we go from here I don’t know, but you’ve got to dream. It’ll be interesting to see what the handicapper thinks of all of mine on Tuesday!”

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