Bridget Andrews steps in for husband Harry Skelton to win on Protektorat

BRIDGET Andrews proved to be the perfect super-sub as Protektorat put down a potential Cheltenham Gold Cup marker by landing the Unibet Many Clouds Chase at Aintree.

With her husband Harry Skelton in Grade One action at Sandown, Andrews was entrusted with the high-profile ride on a horse who put up a remorseless performance to beat former Gold Cup hero Native River by 25 lengths, with dual Grand National hero Tiger Roll pulled up.

But the victory also franked the form of last month’s Paddy Power Gold Cup at Cheltenham when Sue and Harvey Smith’s stable star Midnight Shadow narrowly held on from the fast-finishing Protektorat in a stirring finale.

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It continued the successes being enjoyed by female jump jockeys on a day that also saw Bryony Frost win the Grade One Tingle Creek Chase at Sandown aboard Greaneteen on a tide of emotion after a tumultuous week dominated by the ongoing BHA disciplinary inquiry into her claims that she was bullied by rival rider Robbie Dunne.

Protektorat ridden by Bridget Andrews before going on to win the Unibet Many Clouds Chase at Aintree.

For many years, Andrews has been second jockey to her ambitious brother-in-law Dan Skelton and has not always received the plaudits that her riding merited.

Yet it was a significant vote of confidence that Protektorat’s owners, who include legendary football manager Sir Alex Ferguson as well as John and Lisa Hales, backed Andrews and she did not let them down.

“He was keen early, which was my biggest worry riding him today. He’s a big, strong horse and I’m not very big!” said the mud-splattered rider. “Early on, I just wanted to get him settled and give myself room to jump into as he is a horse with a huge amount of scope and I didn’t want to get trapped in behind horses.

“The further we went, the keener he got with me. In the end I thought, ‘I have just got to relax at some point and just let him jump to the front’. He then pricked his ears and took a breath with me.

Protektorat ridden by Bridget Andrews before going on to win the Unibet Many Clouds Chase at Aintree.

“Native River always goes his gallop but Protektorat is a horse with a high cruising speed so I was just trying to take him back the whole time, but it was a great performance. It was a big day for me and I’m really privileged to have been involved.

“We always thought he was a three-miler but was probably just not giving himself the chance to get the trip earlier in his career. Hopefully, we will be on our way to the Gold Cup and I know John (Hales) would love to go there if possible.

“I know I am number two jockey and more than happy with the job I have so Harry (Skelton) will be back on board on the big day.”

The Becher Chase over the National fences saw the Charlie Longsdon-trained Snow Leopardess become the first mare to win the race.

Snow Leopardess ridden by Aidan Coleman (right) runs home to win the Unibet Becher Handicap Chase from Hill Sixteen and Craig Nichol (left).

The long-time leader prevailed in a photo-finish from Hill Sixteen, with the winning rider Aidan Coleman incurring a seven-day whip ban that will see him miss potential Grade One rides on Paisley Park and Epatante over the festive period.

“She jumped beautifully and this has been the plan for a long time. I’m just lost for words. She’s been a very special mare for us and has won in England, Ireland and France,” said Longsdon.

“She’s had setbacks – you name it she’s had it – but there she is again, back competing with the best. They pulled well clear of the rest and she got lonely in front.

“Aidan said he’d have kicked himself if they’d have got beat. She’s a dude and a one in a lifetime for a middle-sized yard like ours.”

Snow Leopardess ridden by Aidan Coleman (right) clears The Chair before going on to win the Unibet Becher Handicap Chase at Aintree. On the left is Top Ville Ben and Tommy Dowson for Catterick trainer Phil Kirby.

Snow Leopardess has already given birth to a filly by former Derby winner Sir Percy, who is now a two-year-old, and Longsdon said that filly may go into training next year.

An incident-packed race saw Top Ville Ben and Tommy Dowson suffer a heavy fall at the fence before Becher’s Brook – Catterick trainer Phil Kirby later reported that both horse and jockey were fine with Wetherby’s Rowland Meyrick Chase on Boxing Day the next target.

Silsden trainer Tjade Collier has the Lincolnshire National at Market Rasen on December 26 in mind for the gallant Ladronne after landing the novice handicap chase at Wetherby, the first leg of a double for the in-form Sean Quinlan.