Jockey Harry Skelton hoping to strike gold in Grade One Tingle Creek

HARRY SKELTON’S personal “Olympics” was making all to win last season’s Queen Mother Champion Chase on the front-running grey Politologue.

Harry Skelton and Politologue clear the last in the 2020 Queen Mother Champion Chase.

It was the finest hour of a jockey who wept tears of joy when his father Nick won individual showjumping gold at the Rio Olympics.

And it rewarded the loyalty and instincts of owner John Hales, a long-standing benefactor of equestrian sports, who suggested that Skelton rode Politologue in Cheltenham’s two-mile showpiece race.

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Now they hope to prove that the Champion Chase win was no fluke when they line up in today’s Grade One Betfair Tingle Creek Chase at Sandown.

Harry Skelton and Politologue return to the Queen mother Champion Chase winners' enclosure.

Their hopes of victory were lifted last night, when trainer Nicky Henderson elected not to run his star chaser Altior due to the ground conditions.

But both the veteran Hales, and Politologue’s formidable trainer Paul Nicholls who is seeking a record 11th Tingle Creek win, will still relish the challenge today.

And Skelton, buoyed by the confidence shown by both men in his horsemanship, is looking forward to the prospect of being reunited with a horse whose National Hunt Festival memories rekindled memories of the Hales-owned One Man who won the 1998 Champion Chase on a tide of emotion.

This, after all, is a jockey who began his career with Nicholls, the most dominant big race winner of recent times, before losing his way and then teaming up with his older brother Dan who is now established as one of the country’s most prolific trainers at the Skelton family’s stables in Warwickshire.

This was Politologue and Harry Skelton in the QueenMother Champion Chase at Cheltenham.

Skelton has not sat on Politologue in public since their Festival triumph, but he has ridden him on Nicholls’s gallops in preparation for his return. “I’ve had a sit on him, and he feels in great form,” he reported this week.

“Paul is very happy with him, and that is the main thing. If he is happy then I’m happy. He does feel very well, and we are looking forward to it.”

Politologue was a disappointment in last year’s Tingle Creek, a thrilling race won by the Philip Hobbs-trained Defi Du Seuil, but he did win the 2017 renewal under Harry Cobden.

“He blew out there a little bit last year, but I think Paul is much happier with him this time round,” said Skelton who rides his brother’s Allmankind in the Grade One Henry VIII Novices’ Chase.

“The defeat in last year’s race doesn’t play on my mind, because he feels great to me – and we know he goes well fresh.”

Henderson’s decision to withdraw Altior came with the trainer worried about the consequences of running his superstar chaser on such testing ground.

The son of High Chaparral beat the popular Un De Sceaux in the Grade One contest two years ago, before going on to successfully defend his crown in the Queen Mother Champion Chase at Cheltenham and win a third Celebration Chase at Sandown to cap another flawless campaign.

Last season was not so smooth, however, with Altior suffering a first defeat in 20 starts over jumps at the hands of Cyrname in an attritional affair at Ascot –which put paid to ambitions of a step up to three miles for the King George VI Chase.

Henderson’s star inmate got back on the winning trail at Newbury in February – and while a late setback ruled out a Champion Chase hat-trick bid, the 10-year-old had since demonstrated to his trainer that he was back firing on all cylinders for his eagerly-awaited reappearance.

But after taking stock of the ground following racing at the Esher circuit yesterday, Henderson said: “It is with a heavy heart we have decided that Altior is not going to run. We simply don’t want to bottom him again given what happened last year. We’re not going to ask him to do it again.”

The now five-strong field also includes the Nicholls-trained Greaneteen who won last month’s Haldon Gold Cup at Exeter, but the difference could be the belief that Skelton has after an unexpected phone call in early March.

“John (Hales) rang me up and said, ‘Harry, you’re riding Politologue in the Champion Chase – you’d better ring Paul and go down and sit on him’,” recalled the rider. “Then you start believing. I sat down and watched every replay of him; you just do your homework. I had a sit on him, he felt great. Obviously it’s all worked out perfectly.”

It is why he is hoping for another golden day.

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