Harry Skelton will become champion jump jockey at Sandown on Saturday after a season-long tussle with defending champion Brian Hughes. Hughes was the early leader in the jockey’s title race but Skelton whittled down his advantage in the last few weeks before kicking on to win title on Thursday when it became numerically impossible for him to be caught.
This season 136 of his 151 wins have come on horses trained by Dan.
‘Blood is thicker than water,’ said Harry. ‘The two of us have always done it together. He wants me to be the best I can, and I want the same for him. I was lucky Dan started training. If he hadn’t who knows what might have happened.’
The rider highlighted the yard’s victory with Shannon Bridge at Ascot in February 20 as when he realised he could be in with a title shot remembering,
‘I knew the horses were in good form, I knew I had the ammunition to do it. I can’t thank all the staff at the yard enough’. He went on, ‘Shannon Bridge was the turning point when I knew we had some fresh horses to go at, that is a big plus, horses that hadn’t been racing over the winter and I knew Dan’s planning. I know what he’s capable of, when he’s got something in his mind, you’d be doing well to get it out of his head. Once I had a sniff of something, I’m a competitor and I was willing to give it my all. Shannon Bridge was the point when I knew I was close enough that it was possible.’
He added. ‘I hope the people who have helped me get here will realise it might be my name there, but it’s a part of them as well. All the staff at Lodge Hill, I hope they can get a kick out of it and realise it is down to them. Tom Messenger has been great the whole way through. Quite often he’s the one to deal with me when we get back in the car when things haven’t gone to plan. He’s the first one to hear about it, but he’d always put me right and we’d move on to the next thing’.
Brian Hughes on 884 has had 212 mores rides than Skelton through the season which started in July due to the pandemic. Of Hughes Skelton said
‘Brian is up in the north, I’m down here in the south so we don’t cross all that much. He’s a fierce competitor, he is a winner, and he is a champion, no one can ever take that away from him. I have the utmost respect for him. He’s had over 200 more rides than me, that takes an awful lot of drive, a lot of dedication to do what he does. I take my hat off to what he does, I think I’ve been busy, but he’s had 200 more, it’s incredible really. At the end of the day, he is a champion and I’d like my name to be just underneath his.’
Harry’s 151st winner came at Exeter when he won the opener on Shentri for his brother Dan. The trainer greeted the winning combination into the winner’s enclosure with a booming ‘Your first winner as Champion Jockey!’ Talking to Racing TV after the race Dan paid tribute to his brother saying,
‘From Harry’s championship perspective, we went to Ascot in February and had a treble, we thought to ourselves this maybe possible.’ He added, ‘It wasn’t something we set out to do, it evolved and presented itself, in sports terminology he got a sniff of a chance and he took it’
He also paid tribute to Brian Hughes saying,
‘He deserves a tremendous amount of credit, rides a phenomenal amount of horses and is a gritty competitor’ adding ‘He gives some horses some incredible rides to win, horses that you just don’t think are ever going to win’
He concluded with a smile,
‘From a personal perspective I’m super super proud of my little brother.’