Mike Drowne talks to Harry Skelton, who is hot on the champ’s heels this winter
Talking about his ambition to one day be champion jockey
HARRY Skelton admits he’s waiting for Richard Johnson to retire before thinking of becoming champion jockey – just like “Dickie” did with Tony McCoy.
The pair have been pretty much neck and neck through the summer jumping season but the gap is sure to open up again now the real winter action gets going.
Johnson knows how that feels having chased AP in second place for so many years. Now the boot is on Skelton’s foot but he doesn’t seem to mind. The lack of outside rides is his main problem.
Last season Johnson had 1026 mounts, double the amount the 28-year-old had and the senior man has already partnered 100 more horses then Skelton this term.
Reflecting on challenging for the title, he said: “Catching Dickie is pretty unrealistic, quite frankly I see no chance of that, if I could hold my pitch in second that would be brilliant.
“I’d love to be champion jockey one day.It’s very hard I don’t get many outside rides, I’m in seven days a week at home, I concentrate on that, make sure that goes right .That’s my priority.”
Success has not come easily for Skelton, after a successful spell riding for Paul Nicholls and landing the Irish Grand National at the age of 19,his career began to go downhill.
After splitting with Nicholls and losing his claim ,he struggled to get rides and in 2012-2013 only managed to ride eight winners. Reflecting on the tough times, Skelton said: “I came to Paul’s and got legged up on a lot of nice horses and to not have that wasn’t very nice, you thought one day you were good enough for the job then the next maybe you weren’t.
“I don’t regret anything, I’m thankful to Paul for what he done for me and if I hadn’t have been there I wouldn’t have had the feel of nice horses and never would have had the winners I had, at the end of the day he’s got a business to run and its simple as that, he’s got to move on.
“The year I had eight winners was very tough, I was driving around the country, riding out at five different places ,trying to scrap for rides, it was mentally tough.”
Luckily Harry’s brother, Dan, began training the following year, appointed him as his stable jockey and his resurgence began.
The pair teamed up with 22 winners the first season and have won over 300 races together since. They also landed their first Cheltenham festival victory last year when Superb Story won the County Hurdle.
Skelton admitted “In any sport a relationship is the most important thing. Dan has complete faith in me and it was very nice to be put in that position, I had to make sure it worked.
“Look at the successful people in the business, look at Philip Hobbs and Richard Johnson, they’ve been together for years, they are 110% behind each other and I think that makes a massive difference to the success they have on the track.”
Reflecting on his brother’s success, Skelton said; “I never thought things would happen so quickly, when we first started we had 12 horses and three staff, now we have 130 horses and about 40 staff, things have happened very quickly.
“One thing I’ve learnt though is that you have to have the staff.It’s all well having the horses but you need the right staff and the foundations to manage them correctly ,our staff have been fantastic. They are pas---
sionate about it, they put their heart and souls into it.”
Despite all their success last year the Skelton brothers were over shadowed by their 59-year-old father Nick when he took gold at the Rio Olympics .Harry is full of pride, saying: “He’s always been there for us and you want to be successful for him to make him proud.
“He’s putting everything into us two, so we repay him with plenty of winners and Dan’s successful business, it’s very satisfying if we can give him something back.
“It was a lifelong ambition and his dream to win gold.To watch your father do that ,it was the proudest day of my life and the best day of my life.”
It has been another lucrative summer for Harry, with regular winners for Dan. He heads into the main part of the season having already scored 70 times.
Reflecting on his fruitful summer Skelton, who rode 22 winners in May, said” “I’ve had a fantastic summer.We kept a few in purposely that couldn’t really win in the winter and who wanted better ground and that worked out well.”
Skelton also pinpointed the Rio Gold syndicate as a factor in his successful summer.He added: “Rio Gold has been a massive success. I think they’ve had 19 winners and won plenty of prizemoney.”
With the nights pulling in signalling the start of the main National Hunt season, Skelton admits he has a lot of nice prospects to keep him smiling through the dreary weather.
“Looking forward to the winter we’ve got a lot of new horses, a lot of exciting novices ,a few that you have seen already, Shantou Rock, who was very impressive at Newton Abbot in October and Rene’s Girl.
“We have got a good, strong team. I’m looking forward to them for the winter.
“The horses have been running really well and it looks like we have some really nice horses.”
Skelton is well on target to beat his previous best of 101 winners, which he has done in the previous two seasons. He would love to beat the record, but riding 100 is still the goal, as well as winning a few graded races.
Skelton has many big days in the saddle to come – and he might just edge past his big rival Johnson before too long.
Skelton on Superb Story at Cheltenham