Harry Skelton Closing In On Glory as Champion Jockey Battle Goes to the Wire

First and Second Place RosettesIn a competition that has seen just three different winners in 25 years, the National Hunt champion jockey trophy could have a new name on it in 2021 as the season reaches its business end.

Harry Skelton, who delivered a hat-trick of wins for connections at Southwell on Wednesday, is now just one win behind the defending champion Brian Hughes heading into the final few weeks of the campaign.

And there could be a double celebration in the family as brother Dan closes in on the champion trainer crown. He is 20 victories shy of current leader Paul Nicholls ahead of what will be a hectic run-in to the end of the jumps season.

The brothers have combined for two winners alone this week, and Harry’s improved standing in the sport means he is now riding for a number of different yards – his nine winners so far this week have come from three trainers, with more to possibly follow.

When quizzed about the prospect of writing his own slice of history, Skelton said:

“This is a position I’ve always wanted to be in. I’ve dreamed of being here, but I didn’t think I’d do it this year.

“Dan’s horses are flying and I’m picking up a few outside winners, so it’s brilliant. I’m in a very privileged position and have a lot of good people around me. My agent, Ian Popham, and brother are working very hard placing the horses.”

Like a football club hoping to get promoted or avoid relegation on the final day of the season, the jockey has admitted to keeping an eye on results elsewhere. “Obviously, you’re always watching, aren’t you? I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t,” Skelton said when asked if he was monitoring Hughes’ results.

The National Hunt season will draw to a close on April 24, and based on their rides in the next few weeks Betfair have cut Skelton to just 4/7 to be crowned champion jockey, with Hughes eased out to 5/4. Harry Cobden, still in the mix with just 13 winners separating him from the current leader, is priced at 20/1.

The Real McCoy

It’s astonishing to think that there have been just three champion jockeys crowned since 1996 – some 25 years ago.

Jockey Titles
A P McCoy 14 (1995/96 – 2014/15)
Richard Johnson 4 (2015/16 – 2018/19)
Brian Hughes 1 (2019/20)

Of course, that was largely due to the dominance of AP McCoy, who monopolised the winner’s enclosure in a two-decades long reign of terror that saw him named champion jockey on 20 consecutive occasions. His season’s best of 289 winners, achieved in 2001-02, will surely never be beaten.

His retirement allowed Richard Johnson – so often the bridesmaid to McCoy’s bride – to take centre stage, and he was named champion jockey four years in a row from 2015 to 2019.

His winning run was ended by Brian Hughes in 2019/20, whose tally of 141 victories in the season as the lowest for a champion in more than a decade.

It’s worth noting that the champion jockey prize has been shared on three previous occasions, and given the proximity between Skelton and Hughes who would bet against a repeat in 2021.