Dan Skelton: Brits need better build-up to Festival *H&H VIP*

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  • Opinion

    The Cheltenham Festival was, as always, a great event. It was a frustrating one for us though. Our horses ran nicely enough but sadly without winning. We thought they might do a bit more but it wasn’t to be. North Hill Harvey was a bit keen and fresh in his race, and our Champion Bumper horse Cause Toujours ran well without quite getting up the hill.

    Irish Monoply

    What really stood out for me this year though was how much the Irish dominated. I feel, and I’m not alone, that we need to have more top races to give our horses a build-up towards the Festival, especially more novice chases.

    The race programme in Ireland promotes more weight-for-age races than handicaps and I’m beginning to think that this helps to prepare and maintain a top horse. It would be different if it had been 15-13 winners to Ireland but when it’s 19 winners from Ireland and just nine by the Brits then that’s a massive difference: they’ve won twice as many races. If that happened in Punchestown and the English came over and won everything then there would be a national enquiry!

    We’re in danger of being very British about it saying, “Well, there we go”, when we should all really be taking this as a warning shot. For a long time British racing has said it’s the best in the world, and it’s true, especially in National Hunt, that we do have a lot of the best races. However, simply saying so doesn’t make it so in the modern world.

    Please don’t think I’m bitter here and that I don’t like the Irish winning as that’s simply not the case, but if any other sport played all its matches at home there would be serious questions asked if you were getting beaten 2-1.

    The Irish do appear to have the edge on quality horses at the moment, and that is changeable, as we all know with horses, but our race programme does need to promote excellence more, I feel.

    Great racing

    It is always a great few days and the crowds are huge. Cheltenham again got massive support, and it seemed even busier this year.

    No one expected Willie Mullins to have all the winners on day one, as his hand was a bit depleted due to injuries, but we didn’t expect to see Douvan beaten either. The racing was very competitive, as ever, with lots of races having some unpredictable and big-price winners, which I’m sure weren’t popular with bookies.

    The Gold Cup was a great race, and Sizing John wasn’t a surprising winner. As the ground changed I thought he had more and more of a chance and even tipped him at some previews. He’s been hacking around behind Douvan but this was a step up in trip. There were question marks over his stamina but he certainly proved that wrong.

    There were some competitive amateur races too. Pacha Du Polder won the Foxhunter Chase under Bryony Frost, after finishing fifth with Victoria Pendleton last year. There was more success for the girls too, when Gina Andrews won the Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Chase on Domesday Book trained by Stuart Edmunds. Gina’s sister Bridget rides for us, and Gina did really well and didn’t let it slip. It was her first Festival winner, at 40-1, so congratulations to her — to have a winner there is some achievement.

    Ref Horse & Hound; 23 March 2017