HARRY Skelton has already enjoyed an unforgettable year that he will remember for the rest of his life.
A first winner at the Cheltenham Festival when partnering the aptly-named Superb Story – trained by his older brother Dan – for an emotional victory.
A first-ever century of winners, confirmation of Skelton’s burgeoning reputation as one of the country’s most accomplished jump jockeys.
A roller-coaster day like no other when his father Nick fulfilled a lifetime’s ambition by winning individual showjumping gold at the Rio Olympics on Big Star.
And it’s not over yet.
The Skelton brothers are now in pursuit of Grade One glory when they run Shelford in the JLT Long Walk Hurdle at Ascot, the race won 12 months ago by the electrifying Thistlecrack. They have an outside chance against a horse of the class of Unowhatitmeanharry, who has won his six last starts for Harry Fry.
And then they head to Birmingham where Skelton senior – Britain’s oldest Olympic winner in more than a century – has the support of the world of horse racing, and equestrianism, in his quest to win BBC Sports Personality of the Year.
Like Shelford’s chances in the big race, 58-year-old Skelton is described as “an each-way chance” against the likes of tennis titan Andy Murray and the Leeds triathlete Alistair Brownlee.
“To be in the final three, and maybe even win it, it would be phenomenal,” said Skelton junior, whose first big race winner came courtesy of Nozic in Wetherby’s Rowland Meyrick Chase eight years ago. “We’ve already had the icing on the cake. It would be the cherry on the top.
“For an hour after he won, I cried solid. Watching my Dad do what he did, it was the best feeling in the world. Winning an Olympic gold at 58, at his eighth Olympics, that was his lifetime ambition being realised – winning individual gold. The last person of that age to win gold got it for shooting live deer. My Dad has done it after breaking his back in a fall.”
The Skeltons are clearly a close family. In the last three seasons, they’ve firmly established themselves as one of the pre-eminent forces in National Hunt racing.
The jockey served his apprenticeship with Paul Nicholls where his aforementioned brother was assistant to the champion trainer in the halcyon days of Kauto Star, Denman and Big Buck’s.
Yet, when Skelton was no longer required by Nicholls and the winners dropped to just eight in 2012-13, salvation came when his brother and father decided to set up their own stables in Warwickshire. With 101 winners last season, and 53 to date in the current campaign, the family have made no secret of their desire, if possible, to become champions in their own right. They’re slowly getting the quality horses – Skelton expects Superb Story, winner of Cheltenham’s County Hurdle, to progress further when he reappears next month.
And then there is the influence of Skelton’s father. “He inspires me massively because he’s been so successful himself,” said the rider, 27. “It’s his drive, the will to win, the passion. We want to follow and try to go top the top.
“On the jumping side of things, it’s not the big things he advises me on but the little things – things which a lot of people miss. That’s the benefit of having him as your father. I’m biased, but I hope everyone votes for him at SPOTY. To do what he did at 58, he’s given hope to so many people. Keep voting. Don’t vote once. Vote three times and keep voting. he deserves a place on the rostrum.”
It truly will cap the Skelton family’s year.