Leading British trainer Dan Skelton did not have the best of weeks at the Cheltenham festival but is positive of having a big end of the season and has highlighted the plans for his stable stars from between now and May.
Starting with Skelton's withdrawal at the 2022 Cheltenham festival, Nube Negra was looking to go one better in the Champion Chase having been a narrow second in last years renewal, but with the ground turning heavy last Wednesday Skelton thought it right to pull him out.
His new intended target looks to be Aintree, with the end goal looking very likely to be the Grade One Celebration Chase at Sandown, where his lightly raced campaign could play to his strengths.
(Credit ATR) Skelton said: “We obviously couldn’t run Nube Negra in that, as we knew the result if we were going to run him in those conditions, so he will go to Sandown.
“We did briefly discuss two and half miles at Aintree, but we don’t feel that is his trip, so he is going straight to Sandown for the Celebration Chase.”
One of Skelton's better chances of the week at Cheltenham came in the last race of the festival with Langer Dan but unfortunately he was bought down at the second flight and his challenge was over.
Skelton said: “He is absolutely fine, but he will go to Aintree and probably run in the two-and-a-half-mile handicap on the Friday.”
The Alcester handlers best ever chance in a Gold Cup came this year with Protektorat being tipped by many shrewd punters but unfortunately could only go on to finish third, still running a superb race in the eyes of his trainer.
“We were delighted with Protektorkat,” said Skelton.
“He was the best of the English runners in the Gold Cup, going into it. He confirmed that and as long as he is all right, and he appears to be, he will go to Aintree on the Thursday for the Aintree Bowl.”
Another placed runner for Skelton across last week at Prestbury Park was the Greatwood Hurdle winner Wrest Cork who was a good fourth in the County Hurdle behind the graded horse in a handicap State Man.
“West Cork ran a great race,” said Skelton.
“We had him ready to run his best and he did run really well. He is in the Scottish Champion Hurdle, but he would be one for consideration at Aintree if the Scottish Champion Hurdle came too soon.”
One of his most disappointing horses of the week was Shan Blue with the Grade One winning handler explaining that although being off the track for five months, his poor showing may have came down to Cheltenham just not being his track.
He said: “Shan Blue travelled well, jumped well and we don’t think that Cheltenham is his optimum track. He will go to Aintree in the race before the Grand National (Betway Handicap Chase).
"They all ran well. We were waiting on Langer Dan to try to get a winner and it didn’t work out, but what can you do – there is no point crying about it – you move on. They all ran well.”