DAN SKELTON has left plenty of his rivals feeling Blue already this season.
And he’s out to land a third Grade 1 of an already dazzling campaign in the Scilly Isles at Sandown this afternoon.
Shan Blue is one of a handful of chasing stars that have burst through at the Warwickshire yard this season.
Already a winner at the top table this campaign, he’s one of the reasons Skelton sits in second in the trainers’ championship, behind only his former boss Paul Nicholls.
Skelton, 35, said: “I can’t bloody wait to run him again.
“And I’m really looking forward to dropping him in trip after what he did at Kempton. This should be perfect for him.
“He jumped on Thursday morning before we declared him and he was brilliant. It’s another Grade 1 though, so we know what we’re up against.
“These races are tough and there’s some serious competition.”
The recent bad weather has done its best to stop the momentum building at the Skelton stable, deep in the midlands countryside.
But with brother Harry continuing to steer home the winners in the saddle and the likes of Allmankind, Roksana and Nube Negra to aim at the spring festivals, there’s no reason the ambitious team is done just yet.
A win for Shan Blue today would edge the yard close to the £1 million prize money mark and further ahead of powerhouses Nicky Henderson and Colin Tizzard.
But second is the first loser as far as Skelton is concerned.
He laughed: “I don’t think Paul’s feeling under pressure, we’re a good way behind him!
“But I’ve always said one day we want to try and challenge that top spot and I don’t have any problems saying that!
“I’ve also worked out you can’t do it with numbers, you can’t just force your opposition out the way.
“We had nearly 1000 runners two years ago, 205 winners and basically if that’s not enough then that’s not the way forward.
“I had great fun doing that, it was magic but I know how difficult it was and this new system is more sustainable.
“Third hopefully becomes second, and then the next step is winning it.
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“We’ve not got to the big spring targets yet. Nicky is going to be firing his guns and Willie will be running all his champions at Cheltenham and Aintree, we know how tough it will be.”
Allmankind has flown the flag of late for the stable and he’s all set for the Kingmaker at Skelton’s local track next week before a clash with Shishkin awaits in the Arkle.
Meanwhile Sir Slex Ferguson’s Protektorat and Altior’s conqueror Nube Negra also have big targets to come with the latter as short as 15-2 for the Champion Chase.
Skelton said: “Allmankind is all set for Warwick next week, we just have to hope the weather plays ball.
“I love watching him race, his owners are so enthusiastic about him running as well. They’d run him every weekend if they could.
“We need to find a little bit of improvement now and hopefully we can have that big day in the Arkle.
“We know the level of task we face against Shishkin, but we’re enjoying the road to it and we’re putting plenty of eggs into next Saturday and he’s already a Grade 1 winner over fences.”
Skelton’s success hasn’t happened overnight. But a change in thinking has definitely been rewarded this season.
Gone are the days of Skelton sending horseboxes to every track in the country. It’s now quality over quantity.
The trainer explained: “I’m probably too out there with my opinion sometimes but I wanted everyone to know the direction we were heading in.
“Whether that be our team here, the owners and jockeys. Sometimes when you say those things you have to back them up and I never really had any doubts that we could do that.
“It was always going to require a lot of work and dedication but that’s something we try to do every day.
“But it’s been great, you have to concentrate on these top end horses, it’s what the press want to see, it’s what the punters want to watch and it’s where the owners want to be.”
But that drive for the best hasn’t stopped Skelton targeting the big pots outside the major festivals.
His team aren’t one to duck a challenge and refreshingly the trainer makes clear there is more to National Hunt racing than Cheltenham.
He added: “We all know Cheltenham is the most important but we don’t need to be reminded of that every five minutes.
“Some horses aren’t suited by the place, some are massively advantaged elsewhere. So you just have to know those days will come.
“But you can’t go chasing them and you have to let them come, you can end up doing damage to a horse’s career by going after something that might not be appropriate in the cold light of day.
“So enjoy the journey and if you win any of these big races on route then happy days, they should be considered important.
“They’re not just a stepping stone to one day in March. It’s not fair just to judge a horse on that one day.”
For younger brother Harry, it’s also been a season to write home about.
Sitting third in the jockey’s race, he’d be top if the award was handed out on prize money.
And Dan doesn’t see why like he’s doing, Harry shouldn’t be aiming for the number one spot.
He said: “Harry is riding really well. He rode two amazing winners at Warwick in the week, I think you’ll do well to see any as good this year.
“We’re very lucky we trust each other and we’ve got each other there.
“Hopefully he can keep going from strength to strength.
“He needs a few more outside rides to trouble that top spot but hopefully people can see that that's an appropriate target now.”
And with the way things are going, it might just be a matter of when, not if the Skeltons reach the top spot for good.
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