Olympic legend provides Skelton family with a leading Cheltenham Festival contender

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  • The Dan Skelton-trained Nube Negra is a far-from-average contender for one of the Cheltenham Festival’s flagship races, the Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase.

    The seven-year-old is currently third favourite for Wednesday’s race for which Harry Skelton will be aboard, but his story actually begins in Spain where his breeder, the legendary Spanish rider Luis Alvarez Cervera, who competed at six Olympic Games and represented his country in both showjumping and eventing, put him in training.

    The colt raced seven times on the Flat in Madrid, being placed on three occasions, but Luis spotted much further potential.

    Dan takes up the tale: “Luis rang my dad [showjumper, Nick Skelton] and said ‘I watch the racing from England every day and I love watching Dan and Harry — I have a horse which is quite good on the Flat in Spain, but he’s a big horse and he jumps well so I think he’ll make a jumper’.”

    Luis sent Dan a video of Nube Negra loose jumping and, despite his unusual background, Dan was keen to take him on.

    “Historically and going forward, I’m always quite keen to try new things because good horses can be bred and born anywhere,” he says. “But I would always take a chance on a horse like that, coming from an expert horseman like Luis — I always felt that regardless of his unconventional breeding and unconventional route, a good horse is a good horse and it doesn’t matter where it’s born or bred. Luis was adamant he was a good one, so I stood behind him and said right, let’s have a go.”

    The three-year-old Nube Negra arrived at his Warwickshire yard in the autumn of 2017.

    “I actually thought he was four!” says Dan. “It was only when I went to enter him in a novice hurdle and couldn’t because it’s for four-year-olds and upwards that I realised! We’d already had him for about 10 or 12 weeks.

    “But he’s a big, beautiful horse and even back then he was about 16.2hh. He looked immediately like he had a lot of talent – a bit ungainly, there were a lot of arms and legs going everywhere, but he’s just been a naturally talented horse all the way through.”

    Harry piloted Nube Negra to victory in their first race together, a juvenile hurdle at Market Rasen, before Terry Spraggett became the gelding’s new owner.

    “The first year he won another hurdle at Doncaster and was placed in the Fred Winter [at the Cheltenham Festival],” recalls Dan. “We stayed over hurdles the second year because we were buying him time before he went chasing, basically.”

    Since starting out over fences, he’s won three of his five starts and finished second in a Grade One at Sandown, his most recent outing coming in the Ladbrokes Desert Orchid Chase at Kempton in December where he trounced the mighty Altior over two miles. He now heads to the Queen Mother Champion Chase at the Cheltenham Festival on Wednesday (16 March) where the Willie Mullins-trained Chacun Pour Soi is the favourite.

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    Altior comes in to the race as second favourite and among the other leading contenders is Politologue, whom Harry Skelton rode to win the race last year and whose sire, Poliglote, is also the sire of Nube Negra’s sire, Dink. Dink was also owned by Luis Alvarez Cervera until being snapped up recently by the Skeltons to stand at their new breeding establishment in Warwickshire along with Nube Negra’s dam, Manly Dream.

    Dink has already proved his versatility as a stallion by producing Andrew Nicholson’s event horse Quimba, who started life with Nigel Twiston-Davies before changing disciplines.

    “Terry actually owns Nube Negra’s full-brother, I own his full-sister, my Dad owns the dam and now my wife, Grace, has started a stud so we own the stallion, too,” says Dan. “Manly Dream is in-foal to Dink again so there’s another full-brother or -sister due on 24 March.”

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