The ambition burns brighter than ever at Dan Skelton’s impressive Lodge Hill stables in deepest Warwickshire, and following a record-breaking summer season that has sent him clear in the trainers’ championship, Skelton is heading full throttle into the competitive winter months.
From the off in 2013, his business has focused on all 12 months of the year and the first half of the 2018-19 season has been an undoubted triumph, with 101 winners on the board and more than £800,000 in prize-money already banked.
But it is not all about quantity for the 33-year-old, who has worked hard to build a team rich in quality for the core jumps season, and when he says his squad is “strong in every department this year” you can guarantee he is well stocked for the second half.
“Any year you have 100 winners and over £1 million in prize-money is a great year but everyone knows we’re ambitious and trying to get to the top,” he says.
Skelton looks particularly strong in the novice chase division this season, especially over middle and staying distances, and classy hurdler turned novice chaser Spiritofthegames opening his account over fences at Listed level this month could well be a sign of things to come.
Star mares Rene’s Girl and Roksana, both second at the highest level at Aintree last year, return to action with their ceiling yet to be reached, while last year’s County Hurdle hero Mohaayed is another big gun Skelton can call on from a yard that has already come so far yet is nowhere near its end destination.
Yard Lodge Hill
Where Alcester, Warwickshire
Started training 2013
Horses in yard 130
Members of staff 44
Head lads Tolley Dean, Sam Davies-Thomas & Nick Pearce
Assistant trainer Tom Messenger
Travelling head lad Phil Haywood
Jockeys Harry Skelton, Bridget Andrews and Conor Shoemark
Amateurs William Marshall & Tristan Durrell
Stable sponsor Ladbrokes
WINNERS IN BRITAIN
PROFIT/LOSS TO A £1 STAKE
TOTAL PRIZE-MONEY 2017-18
Saint Des Saints (sire) – Pretty Melodie (dam)
Owner: Malcolm Olden
Form figures: F14/3-
Racing Post Rating: 130 (chases); Official Rating 136 (chases)
He had one run over fences last year but I’d say he picked up an injury mid-race and had the rest of the year off with a leg. I’m happy with the way he’s come back in and we’ll crack on over fences. He’s ready to go but loves a bit of soft ground and we’re just waiting for some rain.
6g Robin Des Champs – Sarah Massini
N W Lake
RPR 126h OR 125h
Held some good novice form last year but everything that could go wrong did in the EBF Final. He wants to go chasing and wants a step up in trip and I’m really happy with him. He could start over fences on November 7 at Chepstow.
If I could sum up last season in one word . . .
5g Scorpion – Pellerossa
Surrey Racing (at)
RPR 114h OR –
It wouldn’t have been the strongest maiden hurdle in the world but he looked really good winning at Uttoxeter earlier this month. He’s entered at Bangor on Tuesday and has got to go out there and improve but, if he did, I could see him going for the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle Trial at the BetVictor meeting. A fast-run 2m is good for now but in time I’d say he’d want a trip.
5g Arakan – Itsafamilyaffair
Mike And Eileen Newbould
1 (pointing form)
RPR – OR –
A winning pointer who jumps well and looks like a real stayer. He should be ready to go when we get a bit of soft ground and I like his attitude at home.
8g Saint Des Saints – Reflexion Faite
RPR 149h OR 146h
He came to us last year but we never got round to running him. He’s high quality and we’re just getting back to where he should be. He hasn’t been to the grass gallop yet and when we do we’ll know a bit more but he won’t be far off a mid-November return I’d imagine. Once he’s ready we’ll then find the right race but he’s going very well and will start back over hurdles.
5g Stowaway – Midnight Reel
RPR 113b OR –
I’m quite excited about him. He got beat in a bumper in February but we hadn’t had him long and looking back he was still getting everything together last season. He jumps nicely and has had a wind op and we’ve got him well prepared for this season over hurdles. He looks smart and will probably start over 2m4f and go from there.
7g Beneficial – Hellofafaithful
RPR 130h OR 126h
New to us and a real soft ground horse. He goes novice chasing now and has some nice form in the book. I like what I’ve seen in training and his jumping is that of a chaser. As soon as the ground is soft he’ll be running and I’m sure we can do well with him.
7g Kapgarde – Kaldona
RPR 128b OR –
He had a leg last year and we’ve had to take our time but the form of his bumper win at Wetherby is exceptional. If the ability remains he’s obviously going to be exciting but we’ve got to get him back on the track and see where we are. I’d like to start at 2m on soft ground but he’s a little while off yet.
7g King’s Theatre – Bob’s Flame
Mrs G Widdowson & Mrs R Kelvin-Hughes
RPR 147c OR 139c
He hasn’t quite hit the headlines he perhaps promised in his early days but he’s a consistent performer. I would like to go down the Topham route with him and I think there’s a big day in him. He’s fully matured now and is looking strong, so hopefully we can go and get something done with him this season.
6m King’s Theatre – La Dame Brune
Highclere T’Bred Racing – Cabaret Queen
RPR 137c OR 130c
She’s been good in the summer, winning twice. I had her ready to go again at Fontwell at the start of the month but she hit the first down the hill and Harry pulled her up almost straight away. There’s a Listed mares’ chase at Market Rasen on November 8. She loves a bit of nice ground and 3m around there will be perfect for her.
7g Golan – Times Have Changed
Mike And Eileen Newbould
RPR 147c OR 138c
He had a great year last term but the handicapper reacted and he’s on a hard mark to win off now. I was really happy with his comeback at Chepstow and he wasn’t too bad for the majority of the way at Cheltenham either. When the handicapper relents, I think he can be be a player and there’s plenty of staying races around Christmas and the New Year that will suit him.
7g Sageburg – Neicha
The Can’t Say No Partnership
RPR 158h OR 148h
We put everything into winning at Haydock last season and he was just chinned by The New One. He ran well in the Kingwell too but found another one too good. We’ve tried him in a couple of handicaps since but he just hasn’t been good enough off his mark and the handicapper has got to give him a chance. He’s been a brilliant horse and will hopefully get his day in the sun again.
5g Stowaway – Masiana
Highclere Thoroughbred Racing – Anchor
RPR 117h OR –
He looked a good horse in the making when second on his debut for us and he’s a more relaxed horse this year. Time is going to be his biggest friend and he’s going to be a 3m chaser but there’s races to be won over hurdles first. I’m sure he’s going to make into a nice horse and he’s not far off a run now.
6g Great Pretender – Miria Galanda
Norman Lake & Susan Carsberg
RPR 146c OR 138c
Had a great season last year and started the new season well at Uttoxeter but we got it wrong at Chepstow last time, dropping in last down the rail and in hindsight it was a waste of time. We’ll get him back on track and I’m sure there’re nice races to be won with him. I could see him turning up in the December Gold Cup at Cheltenham.
5g Champs Elysees – Glorious Dreams
John O’Donnell & Noel Kelly
RPR 129 OR 101
He was good on the Flat but is a great big animal and looks like a National Hunt horse. I’m delighted to have him and he looked smart winning on debut at Huntingdon. He’ll run this week and we’ll play our hand at 2m to begin with but he’ll want to step up in trip eventually. I could see him turning up at the festivals – whether it’s in the graded novices or the handicaps, I’m not sure but he was a high-class Flat horse over a trip, so why can’t he be high-class over jumps?
5g Voix Du Nord – Razia
RPR 131h OR 127h
There’s a lot of unfinished business with this horse and I think you’ll find he improves significantly in time, especially over a fence. He’s got to go and prove it but he’s very natural and would take a step up in trip. He gets to start his season off a real nice mark and gets the opportunity to be progressive. He might start at Sandown over hurdles and 2m at the end of next week and then we’ll step up in trip.
4g Network – Etoile D’Ainay
RPR 116h OR –
Second on his only start over hurdles at Auteuil and looks very natural at home. He’ll want a trip in time but will start at 2m and I could see me holding out until the Ladbrokes Trophy meeting with him. He looks pretty smart on what we’ve seen at home.
4g Buck’s Boum – Urielle Collonges
RPR 121h OR 128h
It was all a bit of a rush last year to get him qualified for the Fred Winter but the ground came up too soft at Cheltenham. He’s a very honest horse and would favour better ground. I don’t know how high up the handicap he can go but feel he’s completely untapped. He gives his all and will definitely make a chaser in time.
4f Martaline – Nuance Du Cochet
Mrs S L Edwards
RPR 106h OR –
She’d been off an awful long time before her comeback at Ffos Las where she blew up and I’d have loved to have taken her to the grass gallop once or twice before. She’s got a nice mark and will win a mares’ maiden off it and then we can dictate her future.
Race in focus
We’re looking at the EBF & TBA Mares’ “National Hunt” Novices’ Hurdle Finale at Newbury in March for Etamine Du Cochet. We won the race last year with Roksana and she reminds me of her.
8g Tamure – Florentino
Dick And Mandy Higgins
RPR 143c OR 139c
He’s going to have a bit of a later start as he had a little problem behind but it was nothing sinister and he’s back in work. It all came together in the Rowland Meyrick last year but I think he was on ‘the handicap mark’ that day. There’s no reason not to have the same races on the radar again but the handicapper is going to have to help because I don’t see him going and gaining a stone from somewhere. If he ever got in the Midlands National off something like 10st 7lb he’d be a player.
6g Getaway – Listening
RPR 126h OR 135h
He was very good first time up last year and is on-course to go to Cheltenham for the 2m5f intermediate hurdle on BetVictor Gold Cup day. We gave him a wind op through the summer and he’s always looked decent. I’m not saying he’ll be a Grade 1 horse but I’d like to think he will be able to go and win some tidy races at least.
5g Kapgarde – Idee Recue
RPR 112b OR –
He was bought out of Nicky Richards’ stable having won his only bumper in heavy ground at Ayr. He’s by Kapgarde and definitely wants a bit of soft ground but looks a smart novice.
5g Dubai Destination – Bobbies Storm
Mr & Mrs Ben Houghton
RPR 139h OR 135h
A good horse last year but he has to go left handed and I think he might have won that Grade 2 at Warwick last year under different circumstances. He made a typical error at the ditch going up the hill and came down on his chase debut at Cheltenham on Saturday. He was going well at the time and seems fine. He deserves to be in the better novice chases we still feel and will I’m sire he will be making amends pretty soon.
6m King’s Theatre – La Marianne
J Hales & J Diver
RPR 121h OR 112h
We’d worked it out by her third start last season and she won well after a wind op and with a tongue strap fitted. She’s a lovely mare and jumped very well when making a winning return at Carlisle last week. We are toying with going to Cheltenham’s November meeting for a novice handicap hurdle. She’s completely untapped and next year, when she goes over a fence, is when she’ll be at her best.
6g Intikhab – Reyaada
Mrs June Watts
RPR 145h OR 146h
He gave us a great day when winning the County Hurdle last season, although I was gobsmacked he went on the soft ground. It was a good comeback at Ffos Las where he just looked a bit stuffy. I think it was a really strong race but maybe he’ll just be a bit sharper for the run. The one thing we haven’t done yet but which warrants discussion is going up in trip. If there was a nice race over 2m3f I’d be encouraged to try. I’ll enter him for the Greatwood but we’ll see where the season takes us.
7m Flemensfirth – Pistol Flash
RPR 127h OR 127h
She hacked up in a mares’ hurdle last year at Warwick but I could never get her right again after that. She’s a big mare and jumped brilliantly to win on her chase debut at Aintree on Sunday. Quite where we go next I don’t know but I probably won’t be messing about too much and, while the ground is okay, I’ll get her out and get her some experience before making a nice spring plan or two.
5g Mahler – Beg La Eile
Norman Lake & Susan Carsberg
RPR 112 OR 115
Another who could leave his form behind this season and will start back in a novices handicap hurdle at Ascot on November 3, a race we won with Willow’s Saviour a few years ago. He’s more of a chaser but there’s no reason why he can’t get a bit of business done over hurdles first.
6g Craigsteel – Endless Patience
Simon Munir & Isaac Souede
RPR 141h OR 136h
He’s been a good horse for us but was probably over the top at the festivals last year. He gets the chance to go novice chasing now off level weights. Hopefully we can go and get a few ones by his name and I could see a race like the Towton Novices’ Chase – 3m miles on soft ground – suiting him. He’s not the biggest but jumps proper.
4g Dink – Manly Dream
RPR 135h OR 135h
Not many Spanish horses come over and do well but I liked him from the second he arrived and he was brilliant last year. He’s big and bold and probably a chaser but I’d imagine we’ll start in the Greatwood Hurdle – he’d be my main one for that race. I think 2m on good to soft is his ideal. As a chaser he could go the whole way but we’ll more than likely to stick at hurdles this year to give him the experience.
7g Central Park – Top Of The Class
Chris Giles & Sandra Giles
RPR 152c OR 145c
He definitely looks like 3m is his trip now and he’ll have a later start to the season. He prefers going left-handed and likes a bit of decent ground, and I see him in the springtime turning up at the better meetings over a trip. His owners come from Ayr and I don’t see why one day he couldn’t be a Scottish National horse.
6g Midnight Legend – Saxona
Paul & Clare Rooney
RPR 151c OR 145c
He’s been magnificent over the summer and I was gutted about what happened at Cheltenham on Friday. It wasn’t his fault, he was just following the rail, but he was in the process of running another fantastically improved race. I’d like to take him for the Rising Stars Novices’ Chase at Wincanton next as long as the ground remains on the quick side. He’ll go on his holiday after that before coming back in the spring for some of the better races like the the Pendil.
5g Presenting – Papoose
Dick And Mandy Higgins
RPR 119h OR 121h
A full brother to Ballabriggs and we’re taking it steady with him but it was a lovely start to the season when third at Aintree on Sunday. He just got tired at the last but I was really pleased with that. He wants a trip and wants a fence and is a longterm project but I think he has every chance of making it.
7g Flemensfirth – Fugal Maid
Paul & Clare Rooney
RPR 141h OR 139h
A good horse last year and goes chasing now. We’ll start over 2m4f and work up from there. How high he can go over fences as a novice I’m not sure but I can see him being the type of horse who turns up for races like the Midlands National and Classic Chase down the line. Those staying chasers is what we’ve historically lacked so it’s nice to have a few coming through.
8m Presenting – Brogella
Andy & Sharon Measham
RPR 149c OR 144c
I was gutted to get beat in a Grade 1 at Aintree last season but she was beaten by a proper horse who is sadly no longer with us. We were thinking about going straight for the Ascot Chase but off 144 the handicapper has said ‘go and have a go in a handicap before the big league’ and we’re going to start this season in the BetVictor Gold Cup and go from there. She goes well fresh, is going well at home and there’s no reason not to be confident about her running a big race.
5g Irish Wells – Skandia
RPR 142h OR 141h
He was never going to be able to show his true ability over hurdles because he’s a chaser. He was bang there two out in the Albert Bartlett but just got outpaced by horses who were better than him last year. I think we can bridge the gap over fences but how far he can go I don’t know – but I wouldn’t rule him out of any grade as a chaser at this point. We’ll get him started over fences soon.
6m Dubai Destination – Talktothetail
Mrs Sarah Faulks
RPR 144h OR 142h
A proper mare who just got chinned in a Grade 1 at Aintree last year and I feel she will improve again this season. She looks fantastic and we’re going to start in the Ascot Hurdle and then look at all the good races. She’s very good, gets 7lb against the boys and we’ll see how far we can go.
5g Flemensfirth – Bridgequarter Lady
M Boothright G Lovett P Deffains
RPR 132c OR 138h
Ran nicely over 3m on chase debut at Cheltenham on Friday and would probably like it a bit softer. He will probably go back there for the November meeting but he’s only five and I don’t want to be over racing him. I can see him taking a decent standard and I was delighted with that first run.
6g Shantou – Cool Cool
Mr & Mrs Gordon Pink
RPR 155c OR 148c
Absolutely brilliant fresh and that’s why we’re going to Ascot on November 3 for a valuable 2m handicap first time up. After that we’ll have to plan but the key is getting him as fresh as possible and on the best ground possible. He could run in the Desert Orchid over Christmas and something like the Red Rum in the spring but if he wins a race like Ascot’s he’s had a good season.
6g Sulamani – Sardagna
Mrs Sarah Faulks
RPR 136h OR 135h
Clearly very talented but was always growing and strengthening last year. He looks fantastic and we’re going to start him in the Elite Hurdle on November 10 at Wincanton. I hope they get some rain – good ground is no problem – and if they do he’ll definitely be a player. We’ll plan from there and he has the option of going chasing this season.
6g Darsi – Lucy Walters
N W Lake
RPR 152c OR –
I really like him and always have and was delighted with his winning chase debut at Chepstow. He’s best fresh and in hindsight I wish I hadn’t run in the Betfair Hurdle or at Cheltenham and gone to Aintree fresh last season – I think he might have won. We’ll go to the Ladbrokes Trophy meeting at Newbury next to give him a nice gap and make a plan after that. He’s just getting started over fences and I think he could be really good. It’s not all about Cheltenham for him – he could end up turning up at Aintree fresh if he proves good enough in the interim.
6g Milan – Lucky Supreme
RPR 121b OR –
Looked good when winning his bumper at Chepstow last season and ran really well in a very good novice hurdle back at the same track a couple of weeks ago. He finished fourth but the improvement to come should be massive.
6g Sulamani – Flying Lion
Good Evans Racing Partnership
RPR 133h OR 134h
He came to us in the summer and has won two quite authoritatively. If he wins another it’s going to be a big one as we’ll chip him into a good race now and then he’ll go chasing. He’s pretty good and always has something up his sleeve, so there might be a bit more to come.
4g Gold Well – Charming Present
RPR 118h OR –
He was good when winning the other day at Uttoxeter. He was a little bit keen but I think the first two are good horses and we really like him. I’d like to give him another run in a small race before thinking about going up in grade. I’ll probably look at Wincanton on Elite Hurdle day if the ground is safe. If he wins his next novice I’d probably look at the December meeting at Cheltenham. He’s always looked like a good horse.
7g Milan – Supreme Evening
Judy Craymer & Nick Skelton
RPR 132c OR 138c
If you hit the front too soon on him you’re going to get beat but he won three last year and it was a good start over fences at Ffos Las the other day in what was a good novice chase. He stayed on well and will improve for the run. He’s going to go to Cheltenham next in November for a 3m novice chase and I’d be very surprised if he doesn’t end up a better chaser than hurdler.
Rival to watch
You’ve got to admire Tiger Roll. You’d love to have a horse like that, he’s just magical.
9g Kayf Tara – Miss Orchestra
D M Huglin
RPR 142c OR 138c
He was running well in the Old Roan before turning in and then he checked out very tamely. He’s a very in-and-out horse and frustrating for his owner who loves him dearly. He could run in the Badger Ales next or perhaps go to Newbury for the Ladbrokes meeting, but he goes well fresh and I can actually see us running him in the Grand Sefton.
9g Denham Red – Liesse De Marbeuf
C J Edwards, D Futter, A H Rushworth
RPR 159c OR 157c
He’s not that big and not that easy to train but tries his hardest and wears his heart on his sleeve. He fell at Becher’s in the Grand National and I thought that might have been it but then he came back and won his next two which was just brilliant. He’s already won a big one this year at Uttoxeter but he’s on a career high mark now and it’s going to be hard for him. We’ll enter for a handicap at Ascot and the Charlie Hall at Wetherby at the weekend. If he’s in the top three or four on ratings he will go for the Charlie Hall, if not it will be Ascot.
6m Presenting – Smooching
Highclere Thoroughbred Racing-Presenting
RPR 137c OR 135c
She’s got a little hind suspensory issue and you probably won’t see her until Christmas at the earliest, but I’d say black type over fences is a formality. We might even wait a little longer for something like the Pendil and I think there’s plenty more to be achieved with her.
Horse to follow
Dan Skelton is making giant strides in most parts of jump racing, but one area where he is particularly adept is in 2m handicap hurdles. Given this dominant era of Irish jumpers, two County Hurdle wins in three years is some record and proves Skelton is a force to be reckoned with in that sphere. Nube Negra, who is being targeted at the Greatwood, could be a big Lodge Hill improver. Just a four-year-old, his best form is at Cheltenham and he’ll improve for better ground when he gets it.
JUVENILE HURDLERS AND BUMPER HORSES
King D’argent, who has a good attitude and jumps well, made a winning debut for the yard at Wetherby and he’ll go back there for the Wensleydale on Friday and we’ll see where we are with him. Normally the early juvenile form is more Fred Winter than Triumph but I like what I see.
We’ve a German horse who’s rated in the 90s on the Flat called Aronius and if he transfers that as a juvenile we’re going to be in business. Protektorat is a real big National Hunt horse, as is Flegmatik. They ran in separate divisions of the Listed Prix Finot at Auteuil and both look pretty good juveniles.
I’m really happy with the bumper horses too. There are too many to mention but the idea is we’re trying to improve the quality every year. We’ve bought some real nice horses that I’m sure we can mould into the next generation of novice hurdlers and novice chases.