Trainer Dan Skelton has revealed that Protektorat’s main pre-Christmas target will be the defence of his Betfair Chase crown later this month, as he described the first Grade One contest of the jumps season as a “lifetime race”.
Four horses have won the Betfair Chase on more than one occasion since it was introduced in 2005, headed by the late great Kauto Star, who remains the only horse to win it four times (2006, 2007, 2009, 2011).
Assistant to Kauto Star’s trainer Paul Nicholls back then was Skelton, who has gone on to become a highly successful trainer in his own right and saddled Protektorat to glory in the 2022 Betfair Chase.
In the hands of Skelton’s jockey brother Harry, the now eight-year-old scored by 11 lengths to give the trainer his first Grade One success in open company.
Speaking on a Zoom call arranged by The Jockey Club and Betfair today, Warwickshire-based Skelton hailed the importance of the Betfair Chase in the Jump racing calendar.
He said: “I was working for Paul Nicholls when he won it with Kauto Star and the Betfair Chase is one of the ‘biggies’ of the year, up there with the Gold Cup and King George.
“It was fantastic to win it last year as it is one of those lifetime races and hard enough to get a runner in it, so when you have your chance you have got to try and take it. If he can be a dual winner, all the better.
“The Betfair Chase is his big pre-Christmas target and we are not taking our eyes off it. It is the race we are training him for.
“He has a King George entry and we will consider all other options after a week on Saturday but the Betfair Chase is his number one target and it gives me confidence to think that we can put up a good defence of our crown.”
Protektorat ran three times last season, following up his Betfair Chase triumph with a fourth place in the Paddy Power Cotswold Chase at Cheltenham in January and a fifth in the Boodles Cheltenham Gold Cup in March.
Like many other Grade One chasers he has not been seen on a racecourse since, but Skelton continued: “I am very happy with Protektorat. I wouldn’t mind if he runs the same way as he did last year at Haydock – I could live with that!
“He goes back to Lisa Hales (part-owner) for the summer and always does well by putting on condition but not becoming too gross.
“We then start back with him in the first or second week of July and he is a very enthusiastic work horse – if anything he gives a bit too much and you are always trying to calm him down a bit as he is so keen to please. I suppose that is also the reason why he is good when fresh as from the second he comes in, he is on your team and wants to get himself as fit as you are trying to get him.
“He is in good form and we’ve managed to get him to our grass gallops a couple of times this year, which is vitally important for him. We have to train him slightly differently to our other horses as he is not trained on the hill – we have to use the soft sand gallop for him predominantly.
“His health and wellbeing is good and his fitness is right where we want it to be. That there has been rain all over the UK, including the North West, will suit him.”
Skelton freely admits that the reason the son of Saint Des Saints is returning to Haydock Park is due to his impressive win 12 months ago and at this stage he is not looking beyond November 25th.
Skelton continued: “Horses and trainers are creatures of habit. Last year he was visually very impressive and if can run like that again, whoever beats us is going to have a hard job to do so.
“When you win, you know what works and stick with it – it’s when you lose you have to try and think of something else to do.”
Sponsor Betfair make Protektorat its 6-5 favourite for the extended 3m 1f contest.
One of Protektorat’s co-owners is legendary former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson, who shares the gelding with John and Lisa Hales, plus Ged Mason.
Ferguson is someone Skelton is keen to have onside and he concluded: “First and foremost, he is a sportsman and knows the difference between winning and losing. He copes with losing as it used to happen to him in his professional life.
“He has always been willing to speak to Harry and I. He is a phenomenally intelligent man who can sometimes just see things the way normal people don’t see them. He is a great man to have on your side as he just ‘gets it’ – he has been under huge pressure, been there and done it and knows it feels.”