TRAINER Dan Skelton is set to send his biggest team to date to the Cheltenham Festival this season.
The Ladbrokes ambassador gives us his thoughts on his string, including Grade 1 hopefuls Allmankind and Maire Banrigh.
Allmankind – JCB Triumph Hurdle, 4-1
I think Allmankind has to be my best chance. I know hes shortest in the betting and its easy to say but theres more to it than that.
If Maire Banrigh won the Arkle shes a legitimate winner but people would be a bit downbeat. But if Allmankind won everyone would be saying well he could be a Champion Hurdle horse.
Hes a legitimate long-term top end contender. Hes about as exciting a youngster as weve had.
Weve never had one going into the Festival as near favourite for one of the Grade 1 Novices and you know what will come after is obviously very exciting.
Hes completely surprised us since he joined us. When he first came I actually sent a text to the owner Bill Gredley saying that this could be a complete waste of time.
But he got to the track and I knew exactly what was coming I just had no idea whether hed keep going or not. Thankfully he did.
He kind of is one-dimensional but if someone wanted to go quicker than him we dont have to take them on. If somebody is going to go out ridiculously fast out there we can take a lead.
But the idea is to go there and make sure its a real end to end gallop. Were very happy with him at the moment and I missed Trials Day with him as I wanted to make sure he was as fresh and well as he can be for the big day.
I didnt want to negate that angle of freshness with a horse like him who clearly thrives on being like that.
Hes a bit like a coiled spring or a bottle of champagne ready to pop and I didnt want to lose that by going to Cheltenham in January.
Hes in good form at home and were happy with him. He has good strong form in the book.
The Irish races just not added to their strength much and between us and Goshen it will be a proper race.
He knows what hes doing now and he knows its a two mile race. At Chepstow he actually settled quite nicely about half way around for the first time. That was a brilliant run and hes got a hell of a big engine.
If we can get him there 100% on the day hes got to go close hasnt he. If he runs like he did at Cheltenham its obvious to everyone and sundry that he is going to go close.
Maire Banrigh – Racing Post Arkle, 16-1
Itll be the Arkle for her. Ill leave her in the Marsh just in case.
Shes been very good over fences, shes won her last six in a row. We got away with it last time when we ran on ground too soft at Huntingdon over further.
But we get 7lbs for her being a mare and that means shes a 155 horse. And you know sometimes that can win you an Arkle so on numbers shes very much a player.
Were very happy with her, she jumps well, is a strong traveller and sees out two miles very well.
In these big races at the Festival you want a horse that sees out a little bit further than the trip and thats her.
The better the ground becomes as well, the better her chance will be. If shes a 20-1 shot on softish ground, she should be half that on decent ground.
Shes just huge, shes 17 plus hands. We ran her off 1210 at Stratford which you cant do to too many horses let alone mares and she just scooted around, she didnt even break sweat. Shes a very good horse.
Looking down the line for her Im going to do whatever it takes to make her into a two-and-a-half miler as they are obviously bringing in the new Mares Chase so thatll be where shes off.
I think the Arkles very open. Notebook was only an okay hurdler and its wide-open in my book. Theres no Footpad or Douvan in there thats for certain and look at last year, it does throw up some funny old results.
I can see that race being open to anyone who can claim on the day and if my horse has a going day she could well win.
If she won that race you couldnt go oh thats a bit disappointing. Shes won her four going into it, hardly breaking sweat, and youve got to respect that.
Roksana – Close Brothers Hurdle, 7-1
Shell head back to defend her crown in the Mares Hurdle. Shell be the best of the English youd imagine.
I know theres Lady Buttons but she was behind ours in the race last year. It was a good run the other day behind Summerville Boy.
Shes good and shes won a Grade 1 now, but against the boys there can be one or two better than her. Its a bit frustrating we cant find more races for her and we havent been able to have another moment in the sun with her but thats the way it is.
No one will forget what she did at Cheltenham. It may have been fortuitous but you have to jump them to win and we did that. I will have her as best as she can be and I expect her to be bang there two out. Its up to her then.
Ive been very cautious with her throughout her all her career and painstakingly planned and prepared her for every single race.
That was until the race at Ascot this year and that was the only time she ran badly. I thought she got beat at Aintree, sod it, well run her there.
I thought what have we got to lose and ride her up there and I had my arse in my hands a bit and look what happened.
Protektorat – The Coral Cup, 12-1
The Coral Cup is probably his target and off 144 hes on a good number for that.
If it battered it down I could see him just coming into the Supreme calculations, you never know what may happen in the run up to that so thats his backup.
Ch’tibello – Kempton then Aintree…
Hell have an entry in the County Hurdle as always, but I imagine hell go to Aintree instead this season after his run at Kempton.
We were tempted by the Champion Hurdle briefly but we’ll keep him fresh for Aintree. He’ll have another race in him at some point.
Oldgrangewood – Brown Advisory & Merriebelle Stable Plate Handicap Chase, 14-1
We were stood up on the hill for two years in a row and we fancied him both times for Aintree at the National meeting.
But then I rang his owner Chris Giles and said Id found the trick with him, hed made a noise coming up the gallops one day and we gave him a wind-op.
Look where he is now! Sometimes they do nothing but look hes been remarkable ever since.
His form has just improved and improved and hes just working brilliantly, I cant have him any better.
He handles a bit of cut in the ground now too which he never used to.
Hell go for the Brown Advisory & Merriebelle Plate. His mark doesnt look overly harsh.
Hes won two big handicaps on route so Id have to think hes got a massive chance.
Brown Advisory & Merriebelle Stable Plate Handicap Chase, 14-1
Hell likely go back to the Plate again but Im going to put him in the Grand Annual too.
I just think a really strong race around two miles there could be his cup of tea.
Hes such a strong traveller. At the back of my mind it might not be the worst idea in the world.
Ardlethen – National Hunt Chase, 33-1
Hell go for the National Hunt Chase possibly. He wants a bit of soft ground and he should improve down the line I think.
Hopefully youll hear about him in a couple of years still and we think hes more of a National prospect.
The likes of the Welsh National should be his thing and hopefully one day the Grand National possibly.
He could also go for the Kim Muir that may be a more realistic target. In the Kim Muir or something like that I can see him being a player.
A properly run race where you can sneak him into it just suits him. But at the end of the day he might not even run at Cheltenham, theres more to him than that.
Shan Blue – Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle, 50-1
His run at Huntingdon was better than Warwick.
He couldnt win at Huntingdon behind Shishkin but thats red hot form.
I like our horse though, and definitely think hell out run his odds.
I thought he would have won that day at Newbury too. No one thought he would, but I knew he would.
Langer Dan – Boodles’ Juvenile Handicap, 25-1
Hes a big player.
He will outrun his odds and there will be a lot more finishing behind him than in front of him.