By Graham Clark
With a team brimming full of talent in almost every division and a legitimate Boodles Cheltenham Gold Cup contender among his ranks, the 2022-23 season could be particularly exciting for trainer Dan Skelton.
Success at the highest level might have eluded him last term, but the Lodge Hill Stables handler still managed to saddle 134 winners - six of which came at Grade Two level - amassing more than £2 million in prize money along the way.
Here, the top trainer shares the latest on all of his top prospects, some exciting novices and 20 names in total ahead of the new campaign.
“With a better jump at the last this year he may have been second in the Gold Cup but I think A Plus Tard was pretty superior on the day. I think with slower ground it would have helped us. His build-up was perfect and there were no complaints at all.
“Next year he will be a year stronger and has a year’s more experience under his belt but let’s get started at Haydock and take on A Plus Tard there first.
“It used to be said that if you didn’t win the Gold Cup at your first go you will never win it so I am encouraged that A Plus Tard won the Gold Cup on his second attempt rather than his first. Gold Cup aside, he is a high-class horse.
“Everybody knows that his run at Aintree was not the real Protektorat. You would have to say that the race that would really suit him is the Cotswold Chase but that is a discussion to be had after the Betfair Chase. I’m very positive about the horse and he is Gold Cup standard.”
“I hope you see a performance like last year in the Shloer Chase as that is where we are going to start him again. I think everybody now appreciates that he is very good fresh and then we will consider the rest of the season.
“We just have to take it step by step with him a little. I’d love to see him back in the Champion Chase. Is there unfinished business there? I think there is after his narrow second in it the year before.
“As they get older a lot of those two milers get better at two miles. I think he is a pure two miler as he is so fast and so quick through the air. Hopefully, we will have plenty of fun.”
“I was a little bit deflated after the Henry VIII but what happened at Sandown Park is that we decided to make the running as we had been saying we were going to do it one day, but by the Pond Fence you could see he had run his race.
“Ultimately last season he won two Grade Twos and looked good doing that but I suppose the disappointing day was the Kingmaker at Warwick when Edwardstone beat him as I went there thinking ‘we’ll win today’.
“He will start in the Haldon Gold Cup and he has got to be a player in that race. I think the day he could clash with Nube Negra is in the Champion Chase but luck is needed in each quarter for both to get there.”
“He is new to us this season and he won the Masters Handicap Chase at Sandown Park last season. I like what I see and we are going to give him a road to the Grand National. That might look like Bangor at the start of November followed by a Coral Gold Cup or a Becher Chase.
“We’ve never won the Grand National and it is a race you have to target with one good enough. We will get him started and once we are on the road we can start fine tuning the route to it.
“He is nearly in at the weights and we will endeavour to make that a definite. He looks a good jumper so he should have scope for those fences.”
“We are going to have to be patient with him as he has just gone back to Polly Gundry’s where he will do a lot of pre-training there and then we will get him back.
“He is phenomenally talented and we have got to make sure when he comes back to the track he is in as robust condition as he could possibly be. Hopefully he could be back for the spring but you have to be sure with any leg injury.”
“I think we will go back for the Old Roan. I’m really happy with him this autumn as he just disappeared after Aintree and I don’t know what happened.
“The wheels properly fell off but he looks back to his bullish self now. He doesn’t owe anyone anything. If the reality was that he had given his lot then so be it but I don’t think he has.
“The plan is to give him a spin at Chepstow before going to Aintree. He is such a cool horse and we are lucky to have him as he puts his heart out there. Hopefully we have got him back to where he was.”
“I’d say Shan Blue falling at Wetherby was the worst part of last season. The fact he got back last season was a massive effort, but there is massive unfinished business there.
“His time in the Kauto Star at Kempton was faster than the King George that year and that does suggest he would be a player in a race of some description.
“Potentially he could be a King George horse. If he wins the Charlie Hall you go to the King George before you make another plan. I’m thinking he is going to go to Wetherby and he will be hard to beat.”
“I think a horse that could improve a lot this season is Langer Dan.
“Whether he can make a 20lb jump and be a Stayers’ Hurdle horse I don’t know but I would be surprised if he can’t be better than a handicapper.
“Could he win something like a Relkeel Hurdle? I’d like to think he could. I think he can take the step up to three miles but I don’t trust him to do it first time out. He will go to Aintree first time out for that conditions race in November.”
“We have been cautious with him. We had him fit for his debut at Exeter but we left a bit to go on with him, then he went and won a Listed race back there before he won another small race at Warwick handsomely.
“Everything is going nicely and hopefully we can make him the best chaser he can be. If he ended up being good enough to run in the Scilly Isles I would run in that and miss out Cheltenham before going to Aintree.
“If he was a horse that could be a Grade One in open company we don’t want to do anything to negate that. He has always jumped fences nicely but he is such a big horse.
"He got a very good hurdling technique towards the end of last season. We have got to translate that to fences now but touch wood it has gone well so far.
“A horse going 145 over fences is a tip in itself and hopefully he can be Graded class. I’d be disappointed if he wasn’t a flagbearer in this division but he has not been straightforward as he has had his issues. However, he is fine mentally. I think he has got lot of the attributes you need to achieve good things."
"He should be one of our better novice chasers. I don’t think he is a horse for the Kauto Star but I can see him being in those good soft ground novice chases.
“The ultimate race is either the Towton at Wetherby or the Hampton Novice Chase at Warwick on soft ground.
“I loved his Greatwood win. We are having a discussion about what to do with him but I think we are leaning towards going novice chasing with him.
“I think I have to start chasing with him as that is what Mike (Newbould) bought him for.
“If we got three runs in and we won one a small chase and been in two Graded races and finished placed behind something higher-rated than us to go to an Arkle you might revert back to hurdles.”
“I think he is a possibly a Paddy Power Gold Cup horse. He has got more robust and consistent and he won a good Listed race at Ayr last season.
“Good to soft ground and a flat track is good for him but having said that he ran well in what was the Jewson at Cheltenham.
“If we go for the Paddy Power we can’t go for the Rising Stars. I think he belongs at the big table.”
"She is a very good mare and she got beat by Marie’s Rock at Warwick who went on to win two Grade Ones.
“She is a good mare that stays very well. I don’t think we are finished over hurdles yet. I think with her we could end up starting at Wincanton in November for that valuable mares’ handicap (Richard Barber Memorial Mares' Handicap Hurdle) if the ground was right. I would like to see her in the Mares’ Hurdle at Cheltenham.
"She will go to Wetherby for the Listed race she won last season. She is magic considering she took five starts to win her first hurdle race and since then she has taken off. She has been a great mare.
“The big deal last season was the Warfield at Ascot and we got it. That will be on the agenda again. It will be Wetherby, then Kempton for a Listed mares race then the Warfield - they are the three big ones.”
"hE is a very good French recruit who won in Auteuil. He is a novice until December 1st and there is an awful lot to like about him and we will take advantage of that. He will stay over hurdles all season but ultimately he will make a better chaser.
"He is a 125-rated maiden. He tipped up in a three-runner race at Cheltenham then we got a clear round into him. I’d be surprised if we can’t leave last year’s form behind. I think he is pretty tidy."
"She won first time at Huntingdon then didn’t run her best in the Grade Two at Aintree but she is very good for mares’ novice hurdles."
"He is a very good horse who won at Huntingdon. He will start over two miles but it won’t be long until he steps up in trip."
"He is very good and has already won two bumpers. To do what he has already done is great as he is by that sire (Flemensfirth) that often takes 18 months for the penny to drop. He looks fantastic and his jumping has been good."
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