By Graham Clark
Dan Skelton is confident of seeing something ‘very positive’ on Festival Trials Day at Cheltenham (Saturday 28th January) from Protektorat, who he reports to be ‘flying around the place’ ahead of an intriguing clash with last season’s Randox Grand National hero Noble Yeats in the Grade Two Paddy Power Cotswold Chase.
The Saints Des Saints gelding will make his first start at the Home of Jump Racing since finishing third in last year’s Boodles Cheltenham Gold Cup when tackling the £120,000 feature, which is staged over an extended three miles and a furlong.
Protektorat, who is part-owned by former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson, made the perfect start to the season when securing the second Grade One victory of his career in November with a stylish 11-length success in the Betfair Chase at Haydock Park.
And the Alcester handler expects to see Protektorat vindicate his decision to miss both the Unibet Many Clouds Chase at Aintree, which he claimed in 2021, and the Ladbrokes King George VI Chase at Kempton Park, with another bold effort at the weekend.
Skelton said: “Everything has been really good since Haydock and I’m very happy with him. He looks fantastic and we always wanted to come here after his last run.
“I always thought the Many Clouds would come too soon after Haydock and I was never going to run him in the King George this season. So this was the fairly obvious race to go for.
“For a few days after Haydock he was a bit quiet but he came out of it sound and healthy so there was never any issue on that part. Since then we have slowly built him back up and he is fresh and well.
“He has not been for any away days but he is flying around the place and I’d like to think even though Noble Yeats is coming over he can run well. It should be a good race and I think you should hopefully see something very positive.
“The Grade One penalty he has to carry (6lbs) is not a problem and Noble Yeats will have a penalty as well for winning the Many Clouds Chase.”
Harry Skelton was a special guest on Luck On Sunday this weekend to discuss his recent big-race success and more
Although Skelton felt that Protektorat had improved since the end of last season at home he admits that he wanted to see a performance like the one he produced at Haydock Park to be sure in his own mind of that progression.
He added: “I think the win at Haydock suggested that he had improved from last season which we had seen at home but he still had to confirm that on the track.
“We’ve not changed anything in his training regime just as they get that bit older and stronger you can do that bit more with them that is the truth.
“He went through the race very well and picked up very well. I was surprised how he scampered clear after the last, which I thought was very good.
“All in all it was just good to see him come out and win like that.”
When it comes to experience around Cheltenham the balance is tipped firmly in favour of Protektorat, who will be having his ninth start in total there, and fourth over fences.
However, although Skelton feels the additional experience is a help he believes it is not necessarily a big advantage over Noble Yeats, whose only previous outing at the track came at last year’s Cheltenham Festival in the Ultima Handicap Chase (in which he finished ninth).
He added: “Noble Yeats was very good in the Many Clouds Chase which you would expect a Grand National winner to be able to do.
“You can’t deny Noble Yeats ability and stamina and I don’t think he will be inconvenienced by his lack of experience at the track. However Protektorat has just turned into a real good stayer and that is very important around Cheltenham.
“I’m not saying Protektorat is an absolute certainty as if your man turns up (Noble Yeats) he is a shorter price in the Gold Cup, rightly or wrongly, whatever your opinion is. It is going to be enlightening to see them lining up against each other.”
While both Protektorat and Noble Yeats will bid to enhance their own Boodles Cheltenham Gold Cup chances at the weekend Skelton feels that chasing’s Blue Riband is really starting to take shape following a number of results last month.
He added: “I thought Bravemansgame was very good at Kempton and I think he put to bed any doubts about really seeing that trip out.
“He has now won a King George which is probably the second biggest chase on the calendar in the UK. Any doubts people could have about him have been dispelled and it enhanced him for a Gold Cup even more.
“Galopin Des Champs is yet to take race beyond an extended two miles five furlongs over fences but that appears to be the only answered question about him as there is no question about his class and ability.
“The Dublin Racing Festival (February 4th/5th) will tell you a little bit about what chances a lot of the Irish guys have and what form they are in.
“We also haven’t seen last year’s Gold Cup winner A Plus Tard since his no show in the Betfair Chase but you would be foolish to write him off as well.”
First staged in 1980, the race now known as the Paddy Power Cotswold Chase has been won by five horses who also landed the Cheltenham Gold Cup. Three of those won both races in the same season – Little Owl (1981), Master Oats (1995) and Looks Like Trouble (2000). See More Business won the Cotswold Chase in 1998 and 2001 as well as the 1999 Cheltenham Gold Cup while Native River won the 2021 Cotswold Chase (which was staged at Sandown Park after Cheltenham was abandoned) following his success in the 2018 Cheltenham Gold Cup.Enjoy a free one month trial of Racing TV – the only channel showing every race live from the Cheltenham Festival! Watch every race live from all the meetings that matter across Britain and Ireland including the Dublin Racing Festival. Click above to start yours now.
Select any odd to add a bet