For nine years Dan Skelton was right-hand man to the most successful jumps trainer in Britain of the time, and there is little doubt he soaked up every piece of information he could during that time.
Of course Skelton knew plenty about horses and jumping before he became assistant to multiple champion jumps trainer Paul Nicholls. His father is Olympic Gold medallist Nick Skelton and horses were part of his life from the very start.
The speed at which Skelton has established himself as one of the leading jumps trainer in Britain is eye-catching. He began training for the 2013-14 season and rattled up 27 winners and over £300,000 in prize-money straight away.
In his next season he nearly trebled his number of winners as he claimed 73 victories and in just his third season with a licence he broke through the 100 winner barrier, ending the season with 104 winners at a 20 per cent strike rate.
By comparison it took Skelton’s mentor Nicholls eight years to reach three figures but while winners are important, Skelton is also keen to emulate the high-level success Nicholls has had.
He gained his all-important first success at the Cheltenham Festival during the 2015-16 season when the well-backed Superb Story landed the Coral Cup under Skelton’s younger brother Harry.
The likes of Al Ferof, Three Musketeers and Blue Heron have also won and run well in top races such as the Peterborough Chase, King George VI Chase, JLT Novices’ Chase, Kingwell Hurdle and Christmas Hurdle for the trainer since he started.
Furthermore, Skelton has shown himself to be a dab hand when it comes to landing handicaps having won The Ladbroke with Willow’s Saviour, the Silver Trophy Handicap Hurdle with Shelford, the United House Gold Cup with What A Warrior, the Fixed Brush Hurdle with Baradari and the Scottish Champion Hurdle with Ch’Tibello to go alongside his Coral Cup win. It is an impressive list of victories.
The secret to Skelton’s success is simplicity. Like Nicholls, he is a straight talker and has an enthusiastic and optimistic outlook to life and to his horses. His horses also thrive on routine and are trained to peak fitness in the manner of Nicholls and jump with the same alacrity and deadly efficiency that transported the likes of Kauto Star, Denman and Neptune Collonges to greatness in their time at Ditcheat.
Nicholls has built his success on his chasers and it is worth noting that Skelton has a superior strike-rate (20 per cent) and first-four ratio (66 per cent of runners) over fences than hurdles, albeit his hurdlers have more than held their own with over £1.3 million picked up in that sphere alone by Skelton since he started training.
There is also a hint of Ditcheat at Skelton’s purpose-built facility in Warwickshire as well, with a stiff uphill gallop and excellent schooling facilities. His brother Harry, who rode 101 winners last season, is also a fundamental part of the success of the yard in his role as stable jockey, with the likes of stable conditional Bridget Andrews (15 winners last year) ensuring good riders are always on the horses in the yard.
While comparisons to Nicholls are numerous, Skelton is very much his own man and the Coral Champions Club have benefited greatly since joining the stable in 2014.
The horse selected by Skelton for the Coral Champions Club was Bon Chic, a mare with scope and potential to excel over hurdles and fences in the care of the trainer having won a bumper in Ireland for previous connections.
Bon Chic flourished under Skelton’s guidance to win four of her 11 races (at odds of 5-1, 2-1, 1-5 and 5-2) and only finished out of the first three on two occasions. She also took the Coral Champions Club to Cheltenham as owners in April 2016 and in total won just under £30,000 in prize-money.
In Dan Skelton, the Coral Champions Club have an ambitious, thoughtful and determined trainer who will stop at nothing to get the absolute best from the horses in his care. He is on the fast-track to the top and is a strong ally to have for any owner.