|Grade 1, Haydock Park 15:00
3m 1f 125y, Class 1
1 Protektorat 15/2
2 Eldorado Allen 17/2
3 Frodon 9/1
5 ran Distances: 11l, 7½l, 2¼l
Time: 6m 36.52s (slow by 3.52s)
Third behind A Plus Tard at the Festival in March, Dan Skelton’s Protektorat reversed that form in style as Henry de Bromhead’s A Plus Tard failed to fire and was pulled up three out.
Bristol De Mai led the quintet along as he sought a fourth victory in the race, but as they went down the back for the second time, Harry Skelton was moving his mount closer to the pace and alongside Nigel Twiston-Davies’ gallant grey.
Skelton remained motionless as the field turned for home and simply had to bide his time to catch up with the game Bristol De Mai before cruising into the lead and coming home at a canter. Eldorado Allen took second, 11 lengths behind Protektorat, with Frodon in third.
It was just the winner’s fourth attempt at a distance of three miles and above and the sponsors responded by making Protektorat 10-1 from 25sfor the Cheltenham Gold Cup and 5s from 12-1 for the King George VI Chase at Kempton on Boxing Day.
QuinnBet pushed out A Plus Tard to 10-1 from 4-1 for the Gold Cup, with Galopin Des Champs the 11-4 favourite.
“We didn’t have a plan for beyond this, we are looking at the Gold Cup in the spring because we ran in the race last year,” said Dan Skelton.
“But I always felt this horse could improve. He’s not an old horse, he has had three goes at the trip – once it didn’t count it was an afterthought, once was the Gold Cup, and once was at Aintree.
“This today was his fourth go and he is allowed to improve for a lot of reasons. I’m chuffed to bits, it’s absolutely magic.”
On future plans he added: “I said in my Racing Post stable tour I may go to the Fleur De Lys Chase at Lingfield during the Winter Million weekend (January 22), or the Cotswold Chase (at Cheltenham on January 28), but he won’t be going to the King George, no way.
“Today is a big stepping stone, but the favourite underperformed. We’re going to have to cross swords with them again when they’re on a better day. It’s always a strong division this and we’re proud to have one right up there.”
Harry Skelton added: “That was unbelievable, I’m not that old, but I’ve never had that feeling.
“He’s just progressing and getting better. The way he jumped down the back, that’s what really good horses can do. It was a magnificent training performance first time up. Make no mistake, we were ready today, we’re not going to make any hiding of that, we knew today might be our day and it was.
“This horse wasn’t easy when we got him from France, we ran him in a hood and he unseated me in at Cheltenham in a juvenile hurdle, he was a bit mad. But everyone has stuck by him and just let us produce him and that’s the dream.”
Former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson owns Protektorat in partnership with Ged Mason and John and Lisa Hales.
“That performance from Protektorat was fantastic and he’s improved from last year,” he told ITV Racing.
“He’s a young horse who finished third in the Gold Cup and today he showed it’s no fluke. You were wondering if he was going too well really and how much he had left, but he just accelerated in the straight. It was a great performance. He was a seven-year-old last year and he’s an eight-year-old (now), so he is better.
“Today was confirmation of our hopes. Hitman is a lovely horse too. We are very lucky – John, me and Ged we have got some lovely National Hunt horses. I love it here, it is fantastic.”
Joe Tizzard, meanwhile, was delighted with Eldorado Allen in defeat.
He said: “I am delighted and that was almost like having a winner. He has run a blinder and Brendan (Powell) said he galloped all the way to the line. I am as proud as punch. Protektorat was a great winner.
“I am not sure where he goes next but he has a King George entry and we’ll have a look. He doesn’t owe us anything.”
Frodon was a further seven and a half lengths back for Paul Nicholls, who said: “He has run a great race and stayed on well.
“We said there was some good prize money on offer and he has got some of it. I am thrilled.
“From the way he stayed on, it almost looks like he wants a bit further these days! I am not totally sure where he goes next, but he could go back to Kempton for the King George (which Frodon won in 2020).”
Betfair Chase (registered as the Lancashire Chase)
£200,000 guaranteed, 5yo plus, 3m 1f 125y, Class 1
Going: Soft, Good to Soft in places
POS. DIST HORSE AGE WGT TRAINER JOCKEY SP
1 Protektorat 7 11-10 Dan Skelton Harry Skelton 15/2
2 11 Eldorado Allen 8 11-10 Joe Tizzard Brendan Powell 17/2
3 7½ Frodon 10 11-10 Paul Nicholls Bryony Frost 9/1
4 2¼ Bristol De Mai 11 11-10 Nigel Twiston-Davies Daryl Jacob 11/1
PU A Plus Tard 8 11-10 Henry De Bromhead Rachael Blackmore 1/2F