Paying 100/1 with most operators to win the Cheltenham Festival’s Leading Trainer award, it’s clear punters and bookies alike don’t think trainer Dan Skelton has a talented enough team to challenge the likes of short-priced contenders Willie Mullins, Gordon Elliott and Nicky Henderson.
However, that’s not to say he doesn’t have a handful of impressive horses who could challenge at this month’s Festival – and with that in mind – whether you’re having a bet at the tote or studying today’s horse racing card – read on as we take a look at three of Skelton’s best chances at Cheltenham.
A multiple-time Graded winner, eight-year-old Protektorat enters the Gold Cup at 14/1 in the betting lines – which is good for seventh favourite. While there are clearly a number of horses who are better-fancied, Protektorat has course and distance form on his side.
The French-bred horse has lined up at Prestbury Park an eye-popping nine times, and couple that with the fact that his last five outings have been at three miles or longer – and he is one thoroughbred you can’t write off in the Festival’s blue-riband event.
It’s clear Skelton thinks he has a shot, with the Warwickshire-based trainer noting that the Protektorat is a different horse from the one we saw finish third in the Gold Cup last year.
“He was third in the Gold Cup last year and he’s a bigger, stronger, better horse now,” Skelton said.
“You saw at Haydock when he’s at his absolute best how good he can be. If he goes into the Gold Cup like he was at Haydock, the run in the Cotswold Chase will be significantly behind him and I think he’s got a real good chance.”
Skelton is well aware of the challenge that awaits Protektorat however, stating that the Willie Mullins-trained Galopin Des Champs deserves his very short ante-post price.
“Galopin Des Champs is the correct favourite. There’s a small question mark over three miles two furlongs at Cheltenham, which Willie is convinced he will answer positively,” he said.
“Galopin Des Champs aside, it’s a very open Gold Cup. Everyone’s had a bit of a go at each other and there have been different results along the line.
“On our Haydock form we’re right up there. That’s 1lb short of a season-leading performance on Racing Post Ratings.”
Third Time Lucki
A winner his last time out at Sandown, 11/1 Grand Annual Challenge Cup Handicap Chase shot Third Time Lucki will need to replicate that run if he is to upset the applecart. He did show a good turn of foot in that victory in February, reeling in the leaders at the last to reign supreme by a length from Fast Buck and Red Rookie.
The only issue for Skelton is that you’re not quite sure what performance you’re going to get from the eight-year-old, as his career has been plagued with inconsistency. After a solid start to his career in which he won two of his opening five appearances, the Irish thoroughbred hit a rich vein of form in late 2021 and early 2022 where he won three fixtures and placed in a further three.
However, his 2022/23 campaign didn’t begin well, with a fourth and sixth-place finish at Exeter and Ascot respectively before winning the aforementioned handicap chase at Sandown. Nevertheless – his unpredictability makes him dangerous – and he can beat almost any horse at this level on his day – therefore, he isn’t one to write off.
This horse was unlucky to run into generational talent Galopin Des Champs in last year’s Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle – however – with the Willie Mullins-trained horse lining up in the Gold Cup in 2023 – Skelton’s Langer Dan will have the opportunity this month to go one better and take the spoils in the two-mile and four-and-a-half furlong affair.
He doesn’t have the form on his side, with disappointing results this season at Aintree and Cheltenham. However, given how strong he looked in the same race last year, in which he finished second by just over two lengths – he could be good value at 10/1.