Only six horses are listed among the initial entries for the Betfair Chase at Haydock on November 19 due, in part, to jump racing’s fixation with the Cheltenham Festival, the early-closing entry method, and the presence of Gold Cup winner A Plus Tard, according to Dan Skelton on Wednesday (3.00).
Protektorat has been targeting the first Grade 1 of the season over jumps in Britain since the summer, but Skelton cited a number of reasons why he will only compete against a maximum of five opponents in 17 days.
“Small fields are a really hard thing,” said the trainer. “People are getting more and more concentrated. There’s an article in today’s paper saying we’re in an era where people believe they can only run their top horses to a high level once or twice. That’s not a myth – it’s a fact.
“It really is that hard on the horses and you can only have them at their best a certain number of times in their lifetimes, so people have started to pick and choose more.
“Add to the fact everybody has built up Cheltenham and everybody is picking this road to Cheltenham. Then everyone is chucking their toys out the pram when they get small fields for something else! Don’t inflate Cheltenham so much and make everything else a bit more important and you might find that it’s a little bit more level.
“I don’t want to be the man who says it’s not all about Cheltenham. I know it’s the most important four days of the year, but you can’t have your cake and eat it. You can’t sell the whole industry off the back of Cheltenham.”
Protektorat, who finished third in last year’s Gold Cup, was one of the celebrities Skelton displayed during a Jockey Club press event at his Warwickshire stable. The trainer also mentioned that the Betfair Chase’s early closing time may have contributed to the lack of initial entrants.
“I’m not convinced by these early-closing races,” he said. “Would you have got more entries if you had closed this race the Monday before? I’m not saying don’t have early-closing races but I’m saying maybe it’s time to have a look at it.
“It’s not easy. You’ve got to take on A Plus Tard. Henry de Bromhead set his stall out at the end of last season that he was going to follow the same route. So you’ve got to go and take on the Gold Cup winner at a track where [last year] he nearly broke the track record without coming off the bridle. Who’s going to line up for that slug fest? It might be an early season knockout and I think the fact there are only six entries is accentuated by that.
“You have to take all those things into consideration. This isn’t just another story about a low-runner field, but is it good? Of course it’s not.”