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

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.

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.”

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.”