Harry Skelton: Champion jump jockey on the story behind his title win

Skelton has ridden 150 winners over 10 months at a 22% strike rate

Harry Skelton says his father’s Olympic success helped drive him to be champion jump jockey for the first time.

The 31-year-old edged out Brian Hughes in a title tussle that involved hundreds of rides over 10 months.

Skelton’s dad Nick won Olympic equestrian gold aged 58 at the Rio Games in 2016.

“He said he visualised, leading up to Rio, being on the podium. Every time I got into bed I thought I want to be standing there,” Harry told BBC Sport.

Nick Skelton, competing in his seventh Games, was the second oldest British Olympian to win a gold medal – 16 years after breaking his neck in a fall.

“When he started, he always wanted to win the gold medal. He had to wait 58 years,” said Harry.

“That’s something to have that father figure in your life. A man who has been through so much – you can’t learn from anyone better.”

Dan, Harry and Nick Skelton
The Skeltons – trainer Dan, jockey Harry and Olympic champion Nick

‘It felt helpless at times’

Skelton sealed the title after his 150th winner of the season – most of them trained in Warwickshire by his brother Dan – and will be officially crowned champion on the season’s final day at Sandown on Saturday.

He said the fight for the title was draining, covering thousands of miles across the country searching for winners.

“Brian is a fierce competitor in himself. He’s a winner. It’s been a battle and he’s been very professional,” he said.

“The only time I was mentally comfortable was when I was on the horse in the race and could do something about it. The rest of the time I just felt helpless.

“The whole time before racing, getting up in the morning, I was just itching to get on the horse and do something about it – that was in my control.

“Adrenaline is the best thing going. Just wake up in the morning and take a shot of it. I love it.”

The adrenaline had been absent eight years ago when he rode just eight winners in a season.

“There are all the others out there who are not in the position I’m in to have 150 horses to ride,” said Skelton, whose support team includes his jockey wife Bridget and agent Ian Popham.

“They journey up and down the country. It’s serious graft and I have massive respect for them.”

Now he wants to see another title in the family, by helping brother Dan become champion trainer.

To do that, he will need to beat Nicky Henderson and their old boss Paul Nicholls, who is celebrating a 12th championship.

“That’s the dream. To secure that would be amazing and is something we are all working towards,” he said.

“We learned off Paul and he won’t give that up easily. He guided us in the right direction, taught us so well, and we have a great relationship with him. Certainly we will do our best to try to get it off him.”

Harry Skelton on Allmankind
Allmankind won four times as a novice chaser this season

The Skeltons have Aintree winners My Drogo and Protektorat along with exciting chaser Allmankind among their best prospects.

And there is little time to rest. Harry rides Nube Negra in the Champion Chase at the Punchestown Festival in Ireland on Tuesday.

But first he will visit an old friend who helped him to his biggest early success – Niche Market, winner of the 2009 Irish Grand National for owner Graham Regan, lives in the barn near Skelton’s home.

“He’s 20 on Sunday. We’ve made him some carrot cake to celebrate.” he said.

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