Dan Skelton: ‘You just think, ‘what if ?’ That’s the hardest part; not knowing’ *H&H VIP*

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  • Nothing really changes in the final run-up to the Cheltenham Festival — the horses don’t know it is different to any other week in the year. Of course, the attention intensifies and things get busier.

    We have North Hill Harvey heading for the County Hurdle and we have a couple with chances on the Thursday (16 March). Unfortunately, the big news for us is that Superb Story has got a leg so will not be heading to the Festival as hoped. He has a tendon strain and the vet has said he might be back in training for December, so in time for next year’s Festival — obviously it’s hugely disappointing. You just think, ‘what if ?’ That’s the hardest part; not knowing.

    It is the same for everyone and it’s the hardest part of the job as a trainer — not only do you have the disappointment but you have to tell the owners, jockey and lads.

    I can’t even begin to imagine how frustrating it is for Barry Geraghty, who was ruled out of riding at the Festival this weekend due to injury. To have got so close and not be able to ride must be so hard to bear. Ultimately, he’s the retained rider for the biggest owner in the jump world [JP McManus] and he had a bundle of excellent rides, including probably a banker in Unowhatimeanharry.

    It’s a tough sport.

    Open races

    The Gold Cup is shaping up to be very exciting. There are plenty of Grade One winners in there, all with a chance. It’s always the best race of the Festival, and the one that every jockey, trainer and owner wants to win. And now, with Thistlecrack out, it is a more open race.

    The Champion Hurdle is looking more open too, with the past two winners Faugheen and Annie Power ruled out due to injury. This race and the Champion Chase are my favourite — aside from the Gold Cup. You need a horse with real speed and agility because a two-mile race is a tough test.

    I used to go to Cheltenham when I was younger with my dad, and then I used to go every year with my best friend. The first year I went was when Istabraq won the Champion Hurdle for the first time — in 1998. There are so many memories for me from Cheltenham, as I imagine there are for most people in racing.

    Not about gender

    It looks like Lizzie Kelly will become the first woman in 33 years to ride in the Gold Cup after Tea For Two was confirmed to run.

    It’s another story for mainstream media to pick up on, which is a good thing for racing.

    However, inside the sport I think it’s irrelevant whether she’s a woman or not. She knows the horse, rides the horse at home — as her stepfather trains him — and if the family were going to have a runner she would be put up, so it’s really no surprise. When she’s out there she won’t be thinking “oh, I’m a girl” — it will be every rider for themselves on equal footing.

    Ref: Horse & Hound; 2 March 2017