By Graham Clark
Dan Skelton believes Le Milos represents the best chance he has ever had of winning the Randox Grand National after reporting the progressive staying chaser to be heading to the world’s most famous jump race at Aintree with ‘as full a tank of fuel as possible’.
The Shirocco gelding will bid to become the first English-trained horse to triumph in the prestigious prize on Saturday 15th April since Many Clouds, from the yard of Oliver Sherwood, landed the 2015 renewal of the race under the now-retired Leighton Aspell.
Since joining Skelton the eight year old has failed to finish outside the first two having secured victories at Bangor-on-Dee and in the Coral Gold Cup at Newbury, before filling the runner-up spot in the Listed bet365 Premier Chase at Kelso last time out.
Despite Le Milos tasting defeat on his most recent outing Skelton insists he was more than satisfied with the run which he expects to put him spot on for the world’s greatest chase.
He said: “He just blew up at the end of the Kelso race and I knew it was going to happen at some point. I said beforehand he is going to need this significantly and he did.
“I just made sure there was plenty to work on for the Grand National. I hoped jumping the last he would get away with it at Kelso but he didn’t.
“Having won the Coral Gold Cup it gave me the time to back off him. If he hadn’t have won that you wouldn’t have gone pot hunting but you would have tried to get your teeth into a different race.
“He is not a horse that you can allow to over-race as I think he would give you too much and he would empty himself. We are going with as full a tank of fuel as is possible.
“Blaklion came sixth in the race for us in 2021 at quite a big price and he was brilliant around there that day. But we never went into that thinking we could win. It was a case of he loves the fences and he comes alive here so let’s give it a go.
“This is a slightly different matter as he is the best chance I’ve had of winning the Grand National.
“I don’t feel under any extra pressure. I just want to do well for everybody. He is really straightforward and he has such a solid attitude to racing as he just loves to get out there and run.”
Although some have questioned Le Milos’ resolve following his latest effort when he was overhauled late on Skelton believes stamina should not be an issue when tackling the extended four and a quarter mile test on his first start over the unique fences.
He said: “Immediately after Kelso I think people thought if he has done that he won’t see out the Grand National trip.
“He drifted out to quite a price but I see he has contracted massively now so maybe people believe now that he did need that run.
“I’ve not put him over any Grand National style fences before the race. We didn’t do it with Ashtown Lad ahead of the Becher.
“Historically going back when I worked for Paul (Nicholls), we tried doing it and then we tried not. We had more success not.
“The fences take some jumping but you could put him anywhere in the field. I’d like to think with a clear round stamina will then come into play.
“Has he got that extra stamina, I don’t know for certain that he has, but I don’t see it as being as bigger issue as it can be with other horses and I think he will keep going.
“We are three and a half weeks away and he seems in good order and he has got a good racing weight for the race.”
As for the opposition Skelton believes that both ante-post favourite Corach Rambler and last year’s winner Noble Yeats will both provide stern competition to Le Milos in a field that the Grade One winning handler feels is highly competitive.
He added: “It is a race now packed race full of quality whereas years ago you could look through the field and select the ones that weren’t good enough but now you look at it and see stacks of form.
“It is a really good race and you only have to look at the front two in the betting.
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“You have Corach Rambler at one end of the handicap who ran well in winning the Ultima Handicap at the Cheltenham Festival then at the other end you have Noble Yeats, who finished fourth flying home in the Gold Cup.
“Those two are going to take quite a bit of beating.”
Le Milos could be joined in the race by stablemate Ashtown Lad, who already has a win over the famous fences to his name having landed this season’s Boylesports Becher Handicap Chase back in December.
However, Skelton insists a decision over whether the nine year old contests the Grand National or the Randox Supports The Race Against Dementia Topham Handicap Chase over the same course 24 hours earlier will be decided nearer the time.
He said: “I need to talk to Ashtown Lad’s owners (Darren & Annaley Yates)more as there are some slight concerns over his stamina given that we ran him in last year’s Scottish Grand National and he didn’t quite get home.
“We’ve entered him in the Topham, which is run over two miles five, for obvious reasons and it might be that we end up going down that route instead.”
Aside from his Grand National entries Skelton intends to send a strong team to the Randox Grand National Festival including Grey Dawning who will make his Grade One debut in the Cavani Menswear Sefton Novices’ Hurdle on Ladies Day (Friday 14th April).
The six year old was last sighted completing a hat-trick of wins over hurdles with a tenacious success in the Grade Two Ballymore Leamington Novices’ Hurdle at Warwick in January
Skelton said: “Grey Dawning will head to the Sefton. I’d say he would be a pretty strong fancy for that. He will stay the trip well.
“I didn’t want to go to Cheltenham with him at any point. I never I was going to be a contender with him at any point in the Ballymore and then if you run them in the Albert Bartlett the only good result is winning as it is such a hard race.
“I wasn’t ready to subject him to that as I don’t think he was ready mentally for that. He goes to Aintree as a fresh horse with really good form. Because he is a fresh horse and a good horse he has got a right chance.”
Joining Grey Dawning on the card will be stablemate Pembroke, who will bid to bounce back from his defeat in the McCoy Contractors County Handicap Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival in the Grade One Top Novices’ Hurdle.
He said: “Pembroke will have an entry in the Grade One two-mile novices’ hurdle. I think we have to go back to a novice race with him. It will be up in grade but it will be against a smaller field.
“I don’t lack any faith in this horse and have the ultimate faith in his ability. Obviously his jumping at Cheltenham was substandard for the race he was in. When you are in those handicaps there is very little room for lack of experience.
“In those big handicaps they go a bit quicker and there is a lot more going on and ultimately that found him out. Any chance he had of winning evaporated when he made a mistake two out. It is a different track so we will give it a go.”
Before Grey Dawning and Pembroke grace the track on the second day of the meeting Skelton could already have a Grade One victory in the bag after earmarking the Mildmay Novices’ Chase as a potential target for both Galia Des Liteaux and Sholokjack.
He said: “Galia Des Liteaux could get an entry in the Mildmay Novices’ Chase, but I think Sholokjack will run in that.
“He was disappointing last time but he was very good the time before. I think he wants three miles now and that could be a good fit for him.”
Ahead of slipping the saddle on his two potential Randox Grand National runners on Saturday 15th April Skelton will be pursuing further Grade One glory with Calico in the EFT Systems Maghull Novices’ Chase and Proschema in the JRL Group Liverpool Hurdle.
He said: “Calico gave Jonbon half a fright around Warwick, but not quite enough of a fright to beat him. I think the race might cut up so he will go there.
“After giving Jonbon a big scare he went and won a handicap but he only won it by a head. That is still solid form though getting close to Jonbon then winning a handicap in the 140s.
“It is not Grade One form, don't get me wrong, but by process of elimination who else do you end up you taking on in that Grade One if Jonbon goes up in trip and El Fabiolo stays in Ireland.
“I’ve kept Proschema back for this race as he likes decent ground. I ran him in the National Spirit at Fontwell over two and a half miles but he definitely wants this extended three mile trip.
“Fresh horses count for a lot at this meeting. You can’t discount the fact there will be horses coming here from Cheltenham that have bundles of class so it won’t exactly be an easy race but this has been our target for him all season.”
Having saddled My Drogo to glory in the Grade One Turners Mersey Novices’ Hurdle two years ago Skelton could bid to repeat the feat with Kateira, who alongside Pikar and West Balboa will have more than one entry next to her name at the meeting.
He added: “Kateria is another going there fresh and we will enter her in the two and a half mile handicap hurdle which we won last year with Langer Dan and the Mersey Novices’ Hurdle.
“I think she is a very good mare. We will see how the weights look in the handicap before making a decision.
“Pikar won at Warwick last time and he looks quite a smart horse. He will have entries in both the two mile and two and a half mile handicap hurdles along with both the Grade One novice races over the same trips.
“I’d like to think he has a massive chance which ever race we decide to go with him as will West Balboa who will head to the extended three mile handicap on the Saturday of the meeting.”
Opening Day (Thursday 13th April) might be the quietest of the three for Skelton, but in Not That Fuisse and Benny’s King he believes he has two solid candidates to give him a first win in the Randox Foxhunters’ Chase over the Grand National fences.
He added: “I've entered two in the Foxhunters in Not That Fuisse and Bennys King and both are fresh horses. We took Not That Fuisse out of the Hunters’ Chase at Cheltenham as the ground was quite tacky by then.
“The two miles five furlong trip here would be better for Not That Fuisse as it would be for Benny’s King. Although Benny’s King does stay three miles in hunter chases, as he showed last time, this trip is more suitable for him.”
One horse who will not be making an appearance at the Merseyside venue is Boodles Cheltenham Gold Cup fifth Protektorat with Skelton calling time on his season, but despite his absence Skelton is content with the team he has assembled for the meeting.
He added: “Protektorat is now finished for the season. We realised he didn’t come out of last year’s Gold Cup well enough only after he ran at Aintree and we said we would never do that again. He is really well at home though and I’m delighted with him.
“He is a horse that will always show you he is alright but deep down he needs a bit more time to get over it as that was a very hard race in the Gold Cup.
“Looking at the team we are sending up though we should hopefully have a few nice chances going there.”
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