A quick look at the National Hunt Trainers Championship for 2017/18 reveals that Dan Skelton is currently in fourth place, with 130 winners and just over £1,166,000 in prize money. Not bad for a man who didn’t start training, in his own right, until the 2013/14 season.
Of course, Skelton is the eldest son of former British equestrian, Nick, whom he acknowledges “has been an inspiration”, and learned his trade as assistant to multiple champion trainer Paul Nicholls. Nicholls arranged for several horses to be sent to him at Lodge Hill, Warwickshire, but Skelton Jnr hit the ground running as a National Hunt trainer, saddling 16 winners by early February in his first season, and hasn’t looked back since.
In the 2015/16 season, he saddled over 100 winners – including his first Cheltenham Festival winner, Superb Story, in the Vincent O’Brien County Hurdle – and amassed over £1 million in prize money for the first time. He bettered both totals in 2016/17 and started the 2017/18 campaign in the best possible way with a double at Warwick on the opening day. However, he did say at the start of the season that the championship was “not within immediate reach”, although he is obviously keen to cement his position among the leading trainers in the country.
Skelton stated that his main aim is to feel that the yard is at least as strong, if not stronger, in the novice hurdle and novice chase division, year-on-year. Among the horses he highlighted at the start of the season were Aintree My Dream, who he believes will be one of his better novice chasers, Bedrock, who he believes will take high rank in the novice hurdle division and Champion Hurdle hopeful Ch’Tibello, who he admits to being “very excited about.”
Skelton has employed his younger brother, Harry, as stable jockey and Tom Messenger, a former professional National Hunt jockey, who retired from race riding in May 2016, aged just 30, as assistant trainer. Lodge Hill, formerly a working livestock farm, has been converted into a purpose built equestrian facility, with 74 boxes and modern training facilities, including a state-of-the-art all-weather gallop. Granted such foundations, not to mention the hard work and ambition of Skelton himself, the National Hunt Trainers’ Championship must surely not be out of reach for long.