“YOU boys (and girls) took one hell of a beating!”
A jumps season dominated by the Irish draws to a close at Sandown today – and us Brits can only think ‘thank God’!
That’s not because we don’t love the National Hunt game. We all do. It’s full of passion and the best of sport.
But let’s face it, British trainers and jockeys have taken a battering from across the Irish Sea.
Credit, though, where it is due, and Harry Skelton is crowned champion jockey for the first time.
He’s had the title wrapped up for a couple of weeks now, and I wrote at length about his skills in last week’s column.
Now AP McCoy and Richard Johnson are gone, the door is wide open at the top of the jockeys’ table. And while on social media I see many question the talent in the weighing room right now, I have no doubt Skelton is a worthy new kid on the block.
There’s a bit of McCoy and Johnson about Skelton in his riding, in that he throws the sink at everything that might benefit from a kitchen essential being chucked at it, but he also has a sympathetic, caressing side. Best of all, I think there’s loads more to come. The best of Skelton is still to come.
While Skelton is champion jockey, it’s the man he landed the 2020 Champion Chase for on Politologue – Paul Nicholls – who is champion trainer for the 12th time.
The competition between Nicholls and arch rival Nicky Henderson is a healthy and very enjoyable one, but both men need to up their game to deny Willie Mullins, Henry de Bromhead and the returning Gordon Elliott next term.
Nicholls, however, still deserves a pat on the back, and just on Wednesday he crowned his season by reaching a personal best total of winners when Threeunderthrufive won at Perth.
The six-year-old’s victory in the Listed three-mile novice hurdle was the trainer’s 172nd of 2020-21, beating his previous highest tally of 171 set in 2016-17. It is all the more remarkable as it came just three days before the end of a season curtailed by the Covid pandemic.
Nicholls told me: “We thought it (the record) was something that might be possible a while back and we’ve cracked it. It’s been a fantastic season and when you consider we missed May and June, it makes it all the more incredible.
“It reflects well on the whole team, from everybody who has been riding so well to all the owners and staff. Everyone has worked hard during some difficult times and the owners have stuck with us.
“Everybody’s enthusiasm has been rewarded and the horses have been fit and healthy and kept on running well and winning the right races.”
Nicholls added: “We have had a great season, a good load of prize-money considering the Covid restrictions and a ten month season.
“Winning another King George with Frodon was fantastic and the Grade 1s at Aintree were great. We have lots of young horses for next season and Topofthegame is hopefully coming in. He will start off in July and we might aim for the Ladbrokes Trophy or something similar to that.
“I’d like to think he might end up lining up in the Grand National as I always thought that would be a great race for him. It will be a challenge to get him there but it will be a challenge I will relish.”
On Harry Skelton, Nicholls continued: “It’s great to see Harry Skelton become champion jockey.
“He started off here at Ditcheat with his brother Dan when he left school and he’s done so well and got better and better since Dan started training.
“I’m sure next year Brian Hughes will be challenging him again and our stable rider Harry Cobden will be in the mix. Our Harry has had over one hundred winners for us and it will be interesting next year when he should get a few more from the Tizzard’s.”
Despite their success, Nicholls and Henderson will have to up their games even further to trouble the Irish trainers.
Henderson will spend the summer praying the likes of Santini and Champ come back to their best.
But that’s what this game is all about. As Nicholls said, you relish the challenge.
Yes our boys got smashed up this term. But soon it will be game on once again.
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