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Cheltenham Chances: A look at Dan Skelton's Festival runners

The Cheltenham Festival kicks off three weeks today and in the latest of our countdown series to the big event we are focusing on the hopes of trainer Dan Skelton.

One of the rising stars in the British training ranks, Skelton teams up superbly well with brother and champion jockey Harry to form a solid partnership.

They've enjoyed success at the Festival in the past, including at Grade 1 level, and will be assembling a strong team for the Cotswolds this March, including a major contender for the Gold Cup itself on 18th March.

Protektorat in Gold Cup picture

Dan Skelton has trained four Cheltenham Festival winners already, including Grade 1 Mares' Hurdle winner Roksana, and the Midlands-based handler sees his 2022 squad as being the strongest he has assembled to date.

Leading the charge could be 8/1 chance Protektorat in the Cheltenham Gold Cup itself.

He was second in the Paddy Power Gold Cup at the course in November on his seasonal comeback. From there it was on to Aintree in December and the Grade 2 Many Clouds Chase over three-miles-and-a-furlong on soft ground.

The improving seven-year-old won that by 25 lengths from former Gold Cup hero Native River in what was a very taking display.

He's only had seven starts over fences and it's still very tough to quantify how good he can become. Skelton is happy to be going to Cheltenham with a fresh horse and recently suggested the Gold Cup is wide open.

The betting reflects that with A Plus Tard at 3/1, last year's winner Minella Indo at 11/2 and two-time winner Al Boum Photo at 10/1. Protektorat, meanwhile, is the shortest-price British runner in the betting with three weeks to go until Cheltenham.

Calling for the Nurse in Mares' novice

Skelton has some talented mares at his disposal and Elle Est Belle has been touted for some time as a contender for Festival glory.

She holds entries in both the Grade 1 Close Brothers Mares' Hurdle on 15th March and also the Parnell Properties Mares' Novices' Hurdle two days later.

With the Grade 1 deemed too much, too soon, Skelton recently dropped a hint that Elle Est Belle may instead be kept back for a 2m4f novice race at Aintree in April.

Instead, punters may be tempted to look towards 25/1 chance Nurse Susan in the Mares' Novices contest.

She won her first two starts over timber at Carlisle and Leicester before going down battling at Lingfield's Winter Millions Festival when second to the smart Harry Fry inmate Love Envoi - a winner again since.

That looked a really decent contest at Lingfield in January and, with Elle Est Belle seemingly going to skip Cheltenham, Nurse Susan could be overpriced.

Nube Negra fresh for Champion Chase

Nube Negra was second to Put The Kettle On in the Queen Mother Champion Chase last March and is 14/1 to go a place better this year.

He won the Shloer Chase on his comeback at Cheltenham in November, before only managing fourth in the Tingle Creek three weeks later. Skelton felt that Sandown race probably came too soon for his charge.

Nube Negra is known to go well fresh and his trainer has opted to keep him under wraps for 16th March.

Of course, the Champion Chase looks red-hot with 4/6 Shishkin joined by Clarence House runner-up Energumene at 11/4 and lat year's beaten favourite Chacun Pour Soi at 6/1.

Skelton will be buoyed going to Cheltenham this season knowing he has got proper contenders for the Arkle, the Gold Cup, Champion Chase and the Ryanair Chase.

Related Cheltenham News

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Cheltenham: A look at Paul Nicholls' Festival runners

Cheltenham: A look at Willie Mullins' Festival runners

Shan Blue heading for Ryanair

Skelton's Ryanair horse is going to be Shan Blue, a 12/1 shot on what's going to be his first start since October.

That previous start was of course the bet365 Charlie Hall Chase at Wetherby. There he appeared set to turn the race into a procession as he had built up a 25-length lead when he came tumbling down three from home.

That Grade 2 form isn't to be snuffed and Skelton reports his jumping to have gone well at home since.

Shan Blue is known to go well fresh, too, so the break won't put his supporters off and while he could have looked well-handicapped if his trainer chosen to go down that route, Skelton believes he's a top-level performer and merits his crack at the Grade 1 Ryanair Chase.

In the Arkle, 25/1 chance Third Time Lucki was recently put in his place by 15/8 ante-post favourite Edwardstone in the Kingmaker at Warwick.

Skelton is retaining the option of running in the opening day Grade 1 and having another crack at Alan King's charge - as well the Irish raiders - but he has pinpointed the requirement for decent ground for Third Time Lucki to line up in the Arkle.

Under Doctor's orders for Triumph

The Triumph Hurdle could be excused for looking like a sure-fire win for the Irish - as the likes of Vauban, Pied Piper and Fil Dor have dominated the ante-post betting.

Skelton must, however, be quietly confident that 14/1 Doctor Parnassus could spring a shock.

Despite his maiden status on the Flat, he clearly had some ability and he was a real eyecatcher when making a winning start over hurdles at Ascot in January.

That ten-length win was over just shy of two-miles on soft ground and Skelton soon took the chance to send him back out at Taunton in early February over a 2m3f journey.

He won that in fine style, too, emphasising that stamina won't be a concern for him on what can be a taxing finish on Cheltenham's New Course in the Triumph. He looks to have a bit about him and could be some each-way value to upset the Irish hordes in the 4YO championship contest.

With plenty of chances set to make their way into the Festival handicaps too, the Skelton brothers will be heading to the Cotswolds next month with eyes fixed on setting a personal best tally.

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