Talking Horses: Harry Skelton kicks clear in jump jockeys’ title race

Greg Wood

Winners at either end of the Ayr card on Friday took Harry Skelton four clear of his big rival Brian Hughes in the race for the National Hunt jump jockeys’ title, prompting Ladbrokes to cut his odds for a debut victory in the championship to a prohibitive 1-10. Hughes, who drew a blank at Ayr, is out to 5-1 to defend the title he won for the first time last season.

Skelton opened the Scottish Grand National meeting with an easy success on the 4-9 favourite Stepney Causeway, but had to work much harder for victory on the 11-2 chance I’d Better Go Now, who got home by three-quarters of a length in a three-mile handicap hurdle at the end of the afternoon.

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Like all but around a dozen of Skelton’s 143 winners in the 2020-21 campaign, both horses were trained by his brother, Dan.

“[I’d Better Go Now] is very good fresh and Harry gave him a brilliant ride,” Dan Skelton said after watching him complete their 8-1 double. “He’s four clear, but I keep saying it, it’s not enough.”

Skelton and Hughes will both be in action at Bangor-on-Dee on Saturday, where they each have five booked rides, before returning to Ayr on Sunday for the delayed second day of the meeting, including the Scottish Grand National.

At Newbury, Godolphin’s strong start to the new Flat season on turf continued when Hurricane Lane maintained his unbeaten record with a gritty success in a conditions event over 10 furlongs.

The son of Frankel was cut to around 25-1 for the Derby after a one-length defeat of Maximal, who also holds an entry in the Epsom Classic.

John Gosden’s Mithras, meanwhile, is a 33-1 chance for the 2,000 Guineas after staying on strongly to win the card’s seven-furlong handicap by a neck.

Master Of The Seas heads Godolphin one-two

William Buick picked the right partner in the Craven Stakes on Thursday when he steered Master Of The Seas to a three-quarter length success over stable companion La Barrosa, and he now faces another tricky choice between Master Of The Seas and One Ruler in the 2,000 Guineas on 1 May.

If he were to base his decision solely on the latest odds, Buick would surely opt for One Ruler, the runner-up in last season’s Vertem Futurity Trophy at Doncaster and a general 6-1 shot for the Guineas. This year’s race is betting more like a handicap, though, and a price of around 10-1 about Master Of The Seas suggests there may well be very little between the two.

Charlie Appleby, who trains all three, suggested as much, having seen Buick time his run ideally after being stuck among horses for much of the race.

“Going into a Guineas on the back of what that horse has achieved today, it might be hard for William to get off him, as he has race fitness on his side,” Appleby said. “I’ve been pleased with One Ruler’s preparation as well and if all goes well, he’s on target for the Guineas, so obviously it’s a nice position to be in.”

Owner Philip Reynolds paid an emotional tribute to Presenting Percy as he confirmed his 'horse of a lifetime' has died after suffering from a blood infection.

The 10-year-old looked a superstar in the making when producing a scintillating display in the 2018 RSA Chase – his second Cheltenham Festival success, having won the Pertemps Final 12 months earlier.

He went on to win a second Galmoy Hurdle the following season, but could finish only eighth when favourite for the Cheltenham Gold Cup, and never quite managed to rediscover his former brilliance.

After moving from Pat Kelly's yard to Gordon Elliott last summer, however, Presenting Percy got back on the winning trail when beating multiple Grade One winners Kemboy and Monalee in a Listed event at Thurles - his 11th career victory.

An eighth-placed finish in the Savills Chase at Leopardstown over Christmas proved to be his final start – as he was ruled out of Cheltenham and later the Grand National at Aintree because of a leg infection, which ultimately cost him his life.

Reynolds said: "It's with great sadness I have to confirm that we lost a three-month battle against infection and have had no option but to put Presenting Percy to sleep this afternoon.

"Percy was a special athlete with a personality all of his own. He took us places we dreamt of, and we always looked forward to having him with us during his downtime.

"We are deeply hurting at his loss and feel so sorry for so many connected with him - Tom Costello, from whom I bought Percy, Pat Kelly, Kim and the team who made him, Gerry and all in Athenry who loved him, Gordon Elliott, Mary and the crew at Cullentra, and of course [jockey] Davy Russell - who gave our family three memorable Cheltenham days, two with our star Percy." PA Media

Like Appleby’s Masar, who took the Craven in 2018 and the Derby at Epsom less than two months later, Master Of The Seas was beaten at odds-on in Dubai a few weeks before his return to Newmarket.

“Master Of The Seas was the class act in the race,” he said. “I was never disappointed with the run in Meydan as our eye was firmly on a European campaign. He flew through the Dip and [William] said once he hit the rising ground, he picked up well and went through the line strong.”

Ayr 1.00 Stepney Causeway 1.30 Le Cheval Noir 2.05 Eskendash 2.40 Didonato 3.15 Schiehallion Munro 3.50 Dino Velvet 4.27 Always Resolute

Newbury 1.10 Object 1.40 Came From The Dark 2.15 Imperium (nb) 2.50 Beautiful Bertie (nap) 3.25 Hurricane Lane 4.00 Darlectable You 4.35 At A Pinch 5.05 Maajdah

Fontwell Park 1.20 Morfee 1.50 Coolanly 2.25 Nye Bevan 3.00 Ocean Cove 3.35 Good News 4.10 Diligent 4.45 Independence

Bath 4.40 Cometh The Man 5.10 Hollow Steel 5.40 Rosie Powers 6.10 Warne’s Army 6.40 Tasfeeq 7.10 Mack The Knife 7.40 Mumtaaz

Exeter 4.50 Kilmington Rose 5.20 Seaside Girl 5.50 Jarveys Plate 6.20 Delight Of Dubai 6.50 Espressino 7.20 So Socksy 7.50 Huelgoat