Superb Story’s success in last year’s County Hurdle provided jockey Harry Skelton with a maiden victory at The Festival and capped an a career-best season for the 27-year-old.

Skelton enjoyed a dream start to his professional career when steering Niche Market to a shock victory in the 2009 Irish Grand National, aged just 19, but, like so many conditional riders, found life difficult after losing his claim and slumped to just eight winners in the 2012/13 campaign.

The turning point came when older brother Dan, who had spent nine years as assistant to champion Jump trainer Paul Nicholls, took out his own licence at a state of the art training facility near Alcester, Warwickshire, in the summer of 2013. Dan immediately installed Harry as his stable jockey and the partnership has gone from strength to strength, with Superb Story’s triumph headlining a century of winners for both trainer (104) and jockey (101) last season.

Harry said: “Obviously, to ride your first winner at The Festival is very special.

“It is something every Jump jockey dreams of when they start riding.

“It is a massive weight off your shoulders as well and to do it on a horse trained by my brother made it even better. It is definitely the best day of my career so far.

“I had my first ride at The Festival in 2009 and had gone close on Radium in the [2010] Martin Pipe and Long House Hall in the [2016] Coral Cup. That is what makes it so good when you do ride a winner at The Festival because you appreciate how difficult and competitive it is.”

Superb Story was fancied after finishing second in the StanJames.com Greatwood Handicap Hurdle at The Open in November 2015 on his previous start and gave backers little to worry about with a smooth 2 and a half-length success in March 2016.

Skelton recalled: “Superb Story produced an excellent performance on the day.

“We were very happy with him going there and confident that he had a good chance. You obviously need the luck in running in a big handicap like that but thankfully we got it and he won well.

“It was massive to get a win for the team more than anything because it is not just me and Dan. Everyone at home works very hard. Our head girl Polly Freeman gets up at six o’clock every morning to feed Superb Story. A lot goes on behind the scenes and you need a good team of people around you.”

Superb Story is being readied for the Stan James Champion Hurdle on the opening day of The Festival 2017 (Champion Day, 14th March) after defying top-weight in a class two handicap hurdle at Musselburgh on New Year’s Day.

Skelton said: “The Champion Hurdle is cutting up at the moment with Faugheen and Annie Power both out.

“I think Superb Story has a solid each-way chance and the current prices are a fair reflection of his chance.

“People will point to his rating (149) but he has never contested a Grade Two or Grade One hurdle. He is a bit of an unknown in that respect. The last day he gave 26 pounds and a beating to the runner-up. Everyone knows Musselburgh is a quick track and there isn’t much margin for error around there.

“Ignoring his previous run in Galwa (when pulled up), he has improved with every start and we know he likes Cheltenham. Horses have gone on from County Hurdles to running well or even winning Champion Hurdles. I think he is a Graded horse but we have to go and find out now.”

Skelton is also excited about the chances of North Hill Harvey and highly-regarded bumper horse Cause Toujours. North Hill Harvey has been kept fresh since capturing the StanJames.com Greatwood Handicap Hurdle at The Open in November, while Cause Toujours was an eye-catching winner on his Rules debut at Warwick in December.

He said: “North Hill Harvey is another one to look forward to in the County Hurdle (now sponsored by Randox Health). He battled well to win Greatwood and Dan has kept him fresh since. This race has been mapped out for him but we are still five weeks away, so hopefully all the horses get there OK.

“Course, Toujours has got an entry at Newbury at the weekend but, if the ground is too testing, he won’t run and could go straight to the Champion Bumper. He won very impressively at Warwick and didn’t come off the bridle. I gave him a little squeeze up the straight to see what I had and there was a lot of horse under me.

“We originally said we wouldn’t run him at Cheltenham this year but, just with the ground the way it is at the minute, he might end up going there. He has got the head to cope with The Festival, and is a well-balanced horse so the track shouldn’t be a problem either.”

Sarah Elsley

Sarah Elsley is a freelance editor and proofreader who is the Junior News Editor for Eclipse magazine. She has a degree in English Literature and is a keen horse rider with an interest in fashion at the races and fiction writing.

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