Keeping it in the family: a story of equestrian success that spans the generations
We all know that equestrian interest runs in families, but not always following the same discipline. Despite the steeplechase dropping out of the rigorous Eventing programme, the National Hunt game and cross country riding have always enjoyed a close association. One family whose reputation in equestrianism just keeps rising is the Skeltons.
Nick Skelton needs little introduction. Now 63 and retired, Nick went out on a high, winning the Individual Gold medal in the Show Jumping at the 2016 Olympics, his seventh consecutive appearance at the Games representing bis country. At the 2012 London Games, he received a team Gold in the British winning team.
Add to that 3 team Golds at the Europeans, a further 3 team Silver and a Bronze for good measure, and you begin to appreciate the scale of success enjoyed over more than 25 years of elite competition.
Horses like Apollo, winner of back-to-back Hickstead Derbys in 1988 and the following year, and latterly, Big Star, the horse that won the Gold at Rio, enabled Skelton to rise outside the contained world of Show Jumping and become a household name. He was appointed OBE for services to equestrianism in 2012.
The current Skelton torch though, is being jointly carried by sons Dan and Harry in the National Hunt racing scene. Older brother Dan learnt his trade with 12 times Champion Trainer Paul Nicholls in Somerset. A nine year apprenticeship provided a superb platform to compete against his old boss and other scions of the Jump racing game. For a man who only started training in 2013, his rise to the top has been nothing short of meteoric.
In a season just concluded, his 148 winners amassed over £1.8m in prize money, second only to Nicholls, and even Nicholls would concede that his former protégé is a natural champion-in-waiting. It’s less a matter of if as when.
Horses like Ch’tibello and Roksana have provided Skelton Snr with winners at the Cheltenham Festival, which shines a spotlight comparable only with the Grand National in reaching beyond the narrow confines of the racing set. And Nube Negra, winner of the Desert Orchid Chase at Kempton’s Christmas meeting, continues the success story by travelling to Punchestown, where the five day Irish Festival begins today.
Five years his junior, Harry Skelton was crowned Champion Jockey at Sandown on Saturday, the culmination of a frantic seven weeks when it became clear he could overhaul northerner Brian Hughes for the title. Powered by his brother’s seemingly bottomless yard of horses, the last three months have seen a remorseless pursuit of winners, 77 toward his concluding total of 152, at a strike rate of over 24%. The last person to achieve that rate of consistency was one A P McCoy.
Success has been harder to come by for Skelton Jnr. Although he has been riding since 2005, he’s been no overnight sensation. But since teaming up with his brother, the star has been consistently in the ascendant. With the power of the Alcester Skelton stable behind him, and a proud dad to encourage him, it’s no surprise Boylesports make him 5/4 favourite to retain his title next season.
We’re lucky enough to see many talented thoroughbreds competing in the Eventing world, encouraged by schemes like Retraining of Racehorses. Our two sports are closely linked through equine and human relationships, and we’re both the better for it.