Warwickshire’s Dan Skelton is one of the country’s brightest young National Hunt trainers and ambassador of Warwick Racecourse. In the first of his new column with the Observer, Dan looks forward to sending his first runners to the Cheltenham Festival.
THE CHELTENHAM Festival is the most important four days in the calendar for the National Hunt sport. Whilst they are not the only races, they are the most important ones and if you are going to be at the top end in the sport, you need to be aspiring to have horses there. It’s a fairytale place.
I didn’t run anything there last year as the horse we were planning to send picked up an injury so this will be my first time and I can’t wait. We’ve got eight or so horses going and I think they can all be competitive. You’ve got to remember that at The Festival you can finish in the first ten and have run well as the competition is that tough.
Our headline runner will be Value At Risk who we fancy quite strongly in the Albert Bartlett Novices Hurdle. It’s definitely going to suit him. He’s a good jumper and has a good head on him so things will not get to him beforehand which is vitally important. At the end of the day though, the horses don’t know if it’s Cheltenham or Chepstow. They haven’t got a clue.
I’m in my second season as a trainer and it couldn’t be going any better and is more than we could have dared dream for. We are all aspiring people and want to do the best we can but it’s taken us by surprise how much we have achieved. I think the reason for that is simply because as a team, we all want it. Everybody works hard and everybody is up early in the morning and no-one leaves until everything is done. Most importantly, we are being given the ammunition and have been able to get horses that are capable of winning races.
It was great to get my first winner at Warwick in January with my brother Harry riding Three Musketeers. It took us a bit longer to get a winner there than we wanted but we won with a good horse and in a good race, and he will now be going to Aintree.
Growing up around here, I used to go to racing at Warwick all the time and so it means a lot to now be ambassador. The racecourse is in its first season as an all-jumps track and the track is very good. There are plenty of good races run there and what we want to do is to attract more high-quality races. Warwick is under a good umbrella as a Jockey Club racecourse and hopefully everyone can work together and get it further up the table as a leading jumps track.
Before Cheltenham, we’ll be sending a couple of horses to Warwick for its next raceday on Sunday, March 8. The Irish Day is a great warm-up to The Festival and it would be fantastic to get our second winner there which would set us up really well for what will be our biggest week yet.