Nube Negra, Protektorat, Dan Skelton
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Dan Skelton: Protektorat a contender for Gold Cup

| 14.03.2022

Dan Skelton heads to Cheltenham with 14 runners, including his first ever Gold Cup runner. Here the Ladbrokes ambassador gives us the lowdown on his runners at the Festival.

With the team we have got and the strength in depth we have, we have got to get a winner and of course I would love to win a Gold Cup!

I have one runner on day one and that is Too Friendly in the Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle. I have been very happy with him and this race is ideal. He has a nice mark, a fast-run race will really suit him, as will lots of runners. He is the right candidate for a race like this.

We have a bigger team on day two with three runners, kicking off with Unexpected Party in the Coral Cup. He’s had a very progressive season and I like this horse a lot. I think he has a big future and I give him a fair chance in this. The trip is no problem and he has run well at the track before. A fast-run race is ideal, and he looks a good candidate as well.

Nube Negra

Nube Negra runs in the Champion Chase and the forecast is dry which is very pleasing for him. The better the ground, the better his chance. He looks fantastic at home, he jumped beautifully this morning, and I have no negatives. He was second last year and we will try and go one better.

It is going to be a very good race but I am happy to throw our hat into the ring and give it our best. I am not frightened of any of them. OK, so the result may not go our way but we have a very good horse so there’s no need to dodge the issue.

Obviously Shishkin is the hardest one to beat. The Mullins camp will be wondering how they can beat him with Energumene, and we know on form Chacun Pour Soi just does not like to travel to the UK. He has tried and it hasn’t worked. You have to believe what you have seen thus far, and Chacun Pour Soi runs significantly better in Ireland. Energumene is a very good horse but not as good as Shishkin. We have never met Shishkin.

In the Grand Annual, we hope to run Stepney Causeway. If he runs, it will be because the ground is really drying. He looks like a horse that once he hits that ground he will show a lot more than he has done on slow ground. You saw that last year. He got on a roll and won four. Until we get that really good ground, we can’t talk optimistically. If he picks up from where he left off last year on that ground, maybe he has a squeak.

Shan Blue

We are even busier again on day three, where Shan Blue goes for the Ryanair. I think he is a very talented horse. He was going to win at Wetherby by as far as he wanted, it was just unfortunate what happened. We have done loads at home with him since. He galloped beautifully this week. There is unfinished business with him obviously and we have yet to take on a horse like Allaho. We got it all wrong at last year’s festival, but we have learnt from that and we are happy with him.

In the Cheltenham Plate, we run Spiritofthegames. I don’t think he quite stays three miles at Cheltenham, whereas he stayed three miles at Aintree and ran well there. Touch wood he lines up and gives his best run and picks up some prize money.

We have two runners in the Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle. We will just see how the weather goes this week but I think Walk In Clover will want a bit of slower ground. She got beat over two miles at Taunton the last day. She definitely wants a more galloping track. I’d even say she wants two-and-a-half miles. Let’s see how the weather is.

Nurse Susan is our best chance in the race. She is a fair horse. She was uncontested the first two outings, winning how she wanted. Then she had a good race against Harry Fry’s horse who beat her and she will learn a lot from that. Harry’s horse is exceptional on really slow ground. I think our horse will step forward from that and she is my each-way tip of the meeting.

Day four sees us start with Doctor Parnassus in the Triumph Hurdle. He’s had a good build-up with two from two. I ran him over 2m3f the last day. You can’t be afraid of stamina if you are going for a Triumph Hurdle. He stays well, jumps and has a hardy attitude. Of course, he’s not taken on graded ones yet but of the horses he has taken on, he has been significantly superior. We just have to test him at this grade. It does look a good race though.

I am very happy going into the County Hurdle with West Cork. I think he is a horse who can go to the next level and I think this track will suit him better on the Friday. He obviously won the Greatwood Hurdle which was a great performance. I have got him fresh again and although it will be highly competitive, I am really happy with him.

We also have Faivoir in that race. He does well in these races. He was third in the Morebattle Hurdle the other day and he is a better hurdler than a chaser at this point. He would be a fair price but he always runs a good race.

Ballygriffincottage represents us in the Albert Bartlett. He is a real stayer and a hardy horse with loads of experience from Irish points. I put him in the deep end the first day, finishing second in a graded race at Cheltenham and he showed he can handle the track. He won next time and it was a promising run. He comes here with a full tank of fuel as he’s not over raced this season. A bit of rain wouldn’t hurt. He has the right profile to run well in this race.

Protektorat

Now for the big one, the Gold Cup. I am very happy with Protektorat. He worked very well this morning, and physically I am very happy with him as preparations have been good. We have yet to take on the current graded horses at three miles plus but he’s got his hat in the ring and he is a legitimate contender who stays well and this is a very open race. Everyone keeps beating each other and I think that is because they are all good horses rather than ones that keep underperforming.

It is my first runner in a Gold Cup. I have been doing this for eight years and it takes time to make a Gold Cup horse. This has been a real team effort to get this horse to this point.

When we first got him he was very keen, he wouldn’t settle, and now we have him heading towards a 3m2f race. That just shows you the work that has been put in. This is why we do what we do. We want to be at this level competing with these types of horses. We are the leading English hope and what a privilege. We are delighted to be in that position, and we take it very seriously. We will do our best for Team GB and for ourselves. We aren’t nervous, just excited. If we have a smooth week, he will be there in the shake-up. I am fairly confident about that. He goes with a full tank of fuel, he’s not had a hard season, and we have planned this out.

Last but not least we run Langer Dan in the Martin Pipe. He was second last year to a horse who should have been in a Grade 1, but that’s just the way the cookie crumbles. He had a race at Taunton which did him the world of good. I was struggling with him a bit before then but he stepped forward at home, he worked nicely this morning, and he is ready to go and run his best. He has to have a big chance.

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Warren Barner