Dan Skelton: Gold means growth *H&H VIP*

  • Horse & Hound is supported by its audience. When you purchase through links on our site, we may earn commission on some of the items you choose to buy. Learn more
  • We are well underway with the National Hunt season now, and at Lodge Hill we’re excited about the months to come. Last season we had 104 winners and won £1.2million in prize-money, so we’d want to better that this year. But that was a very good achievement for a young team — only 10 trainers have ever exceeded £1m and had 100 winners in a season.

    We started out in 2013 with 12 horses and now have more than 100. My dad, Nick, winning gold at 2012 helped get us going, and we built state-of-the-art facilities, which appeal to owners. We’ve continued to grow, as success breeds success. But results are only part of the job, and we want to give our owners a good experience. We’re in the service industry after all; without owners racing has nothing.

    Stable staff retention

    More horses mean we now have 45 people working with us. We have just finished our new accommodation block, which has 17 en suite rooms, plus two flats for managers, meeting rooms and even a gym.

    There’s been a fair bit of press coverage about the treatment of stable staff recently, and I think it’s unhelpful. For staff to be portrayed as undervalued is sensationalist headlining. No industry is without its problems, but to suggest that all trainers are draconian puts a negative mindset out there. There are, of course, some bad apples in every barrel, but they’re certainly the minority.

    Racing staff have their own union, agreements on top of government standards, and are ensured holiday, overtime etc. Staff are the engine room of the industry, but it’s a vocation and a specialist skill. Significant improvement is needed from all parties, and I’m doing my bit with improving the standards of accommodation. More needs to be done with staff retention and recruitment, but from higher up; it can’t just be left with the trainers.

    Gold rush

    I’ve never been to as many awards ceremonies as I have since Rio. It’s a bit like after Neptune Collonges won the Grand National when I was assistant to Paul Nicholls; you can have top winners but you don’t get the public adoration until you get the big one. Same with Dad, he’s won grands prix everywhere, but now he has the individual Olympic gold it’s gone to another level.

    It’s great that the medal provides a crossover between racing and showjumping, too, though I’m not sure it will secure more fans in either discipline. People have preferences: maybe they like racing for the betting, or showjumping for the precision. Attracting followers is expensive; keeping them is even harder. We need to do the best we can for the ones we have now and expect word of mouth and social media to attract new ones rather than use gimmicks.

    Major players

    Thistlecrack was unbelievable on his chasing debut a couple of weeks ago. In terms of athletic ability he was as good as I’ve seen. He’s such a talent. If he gets some luck he could be an all-time great.

    This season the aim for us is to get a Grade One winner, as we haven’t had one of those yet. In terms of horses to look out for, Robin Roe won well recently, and Value At Risk is very talented. We have some exciting youngsters coming through the novice hurdle and bumpers. We really need a big downpour to get the soft-ground horses out but no rain is forecast. The next big thing is Cheltenham’s Open meeting in a couple of weeks, so let’s see what that holds.

    Ref Horse & Hound; 3 November 2016