The newly crowned centurion.
Harry Skelton has recorded more than 900 victories in his career thus far, which began back in 2006 at Exeter aboard the Paul Nicholls trained Mickey Cole. Skelton remains the youngest jockey to win the Irish Grand National at the age of 19 aboard Niche Market at Fairyhouse 11 years ago. He has since clocked up successive Grade One wins at the Cheltenham Festival aboard Roksana, who duly took advantage of Benie Des Dieux’s memorable final-flight mishap in 2019 and Politologue when romping home in the 2020 Queen Mother Champion Chase.
Stable jockey to his older sibling Dan at Lodge Hill, the formidable pair have recently searched for quality over quantity and head to Cheltenham with their best team of horses to date.
The sons of double Olympic show jumping champion Nick, pay huge credit to their father and to multiple Champion Trainer Paul Nicholls, who they both served their apprentice with. Harry has also played his part in recent years with former boss, Nicholls, winning multiple Grade 1’s aboard the popular aforementioned grey Politologue.
Now having claimed a century for the season, we spoke to Harry about his life in racing ahead of Prestbury Park’s showcase in two weeks’ time.
You’ve achieved 100 winners for this season, surpassing last year’s total of 82 with still over seven weeks to go. What’s been the secret this year?
I’d say this has definitely been the team at Lodge Hill; Dan Skelton Racing. It’s a credit to them to keep the horses going for such a long period of time. Obviously, for me to ride them in the afternoon’s, I’m very lucky to be doing that, but it’s the team at home that have made it happen.
What’s your favourite racecourse and why?
My favourite course is Warwick. It’s our local but it’s a very fair track and is a good test of jumping, particularly over fences. If you have one that can get away on the front end and jumps well, it can win you the race. I really enjoy riding there.
The Jump Jockey’s Championship is close with just under two months to go. Is winning the title something you strive towards at the start of each season?
At the start of every season, I’d love to be champion jockey but it’s not at the forefront of my mind. I’m in a position now where I’m in touch to have a go at it so we’ll keep going and the horses are in good form, so long may that continue. Numerically, it’s going to be very hard because Brian Hughes has had over 200 more rides than me but I’m very privileged to be in the position to have a go.
Outside of racing, how do you enjoy your free time?
It’s quite hard to switch off away from racing because it’s twelve months of the year, but me and Bridget have two show jumpers and we try and get away on holiday when we can.
What advice would you give to a young rider with aspirations of pursuing a career in the saddle?
I’d say to work hard and surround yourself with the best people, keep your ears open and your mouth closed…
Does the idea of a Cheltenham Festival without crowds taint its prestige slightly or do you still feel the excitement for it that you would any other season?
Without crowds it probably does, but we’re still there and competing, and we have to get on with it. Obviously, we’d prefer the crowds there with the atmosphere but I’m definitely excited and looking forward to it.
You have plenty of exciting rides in store. Is there one that you’re most excited for?
I’m really looking forward to the Queen Mother Champion Chase with Nube Negra, who was very impressive at Kempton just after Christmas. He’s in very good form and the forecast has been fairly dry. Hopefully, the rain stays away as the drying ground would strengthen his chances for definite. He’s a classy horse and hopefully he can run a big race.
If you could ride one horse from outside Lodge Hill, who would you choose?
Al Boum Photo. He’s going for a third Gold Cup back-to-back and he’s the horse who can go and make history, and he’s the one they all have to beat.
What’s your single favourite moment in the saddle to date?
Ch’tibello winning the County Hurdle in 2019. It was a long-term plan and when it all comes off, it feels very rewarding and there’s a lot of people who played their part that were able to make it happen.
If you could sum up the Cheltenham Festival in one word, what would that be?
We’d echo that, Harry.