Dan Skelton: A rollercoaster Cheltenham *H&H VIP*

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  • The team had a top weekend, as we won the Grade Three Greatwood Handicap Hurdle at Cheltenham with North Hill Harvey. He was ridden by my brother Harry, and just got up by half a length to beat Paul Nicholls’ Modus. We were hopeful, but we weren’t expecting it,  so we were thrilled.

    It’s funny really as we were aiming the horse at the Elite Hurdle at Wincanton on 5 November, but the ground was too firm.  I was like a petulant child that day as I was so frustrated that we couldn’t run him, but it all worked out for the best.

    Meet The Legend was due to run in the race at Cheltenham on Sunday, but he had a dirty nose, so we went with North Hill Harvey. He jumped great and ran well throughout. The plan was to sit as close as possible to Sternrubin, who we knew would make the running.

    North Hill Harvey is a straightforward animal — you couldn’t ask for an easier horse to do. He’s very simple, you don’t really need to train him, he tries beyond compare and we are very lucky to have him.

    We will consider running him in the International at Cheltenham next month, but really we want to keep his powder dry until the Festival in March and go for the County Hurdle. It was a really great day, and we all headed back to the new accommodation block to celebrate that evening.

    Highs and lows

    Sadly Nicky Henderson’s day really showed the downs of racing. He retired Sprinter Sacre and then moments later another popular horse of his, Simonsig, suffered a fatal injury in a fall. It was a terrible day for Nicky and all his team.

    Sprinter Sacre was a great horse and excellent for the sport. He had a large fanbase and was extremely popular, and winning nine Grade Ones was a real achievement. It must have been a very emotional occasion  for Nicky.

    Simonsig’s injury reminds us of the risks we run every day. Nicky had worked hard to bring the horse, who was a previous Arkle winner, back from injury, and it’s a cruel turn of circumstances.

    You have to pick yourself up and dust yourself off and remember the good days. It’s not fair, and it will take some getting over. We all know with horses that it’s a possibility, not a probability, that these things happen and it’s part of what we do. We are very lucky to be involved in this great sport, but it’s not without its difficulties.


    Sports Personality of the Year?

    My dad’s won many awards recently, and to win the Horse & Hound lifetime achievement at the inaugural Horse & Hound awards recently was a great accolade. He’s been around longer than Sky TV, but awards never get old. He’s done all the hard graft and it’s not luck that has got him to the position he’s in now.

    Both he and Big Star showed their best qualities in Rio and I don’t think their achievements have been exaggerated. Dad’s based just up the road and Big Star spends a fair bit of time with us. He comes up to use the spa and the facilities, and his groom, Mark, loves his racing.

    Racehorses are very much part of a system and they love their routine — they’re fed at 6am, ridden at 8am, go to the spa, get groomed, and then go to the races to do their job.

    Showjumpers are a little more interchangeable; they might need to be on a lorry for an 18-hour journey, or flying on a plane to a foreign show so they need to be more flexible, with a good attitude.

    Big Star is aloof and imposing. He doesn’t act like a stallion but he knows he’s bigger than you and you wouldn’t want to mess around. But he’d never mean to stand on you or do anything malicious. He’s sensitive and rideable, a horse that is hard to come by.

    You really can’t overplay their achievements in the sport, especially recently, and we hope all the public get behind Dad for the BBC Sports Personality of the Year. If equestrian fans show their support, it’s not impossible for him to win.

    Ref Horse & Hound; 17 November 2016