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Dan Skelton admits Cheltenham flop Protektorat was nowhere near fit enough

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Dan Skelton blamed a lack of fitness for Protektorat’s flat fourth in Saturday’s Cotswold Chase – but still believes “100 per cent” in the eight-year-old’s Cheltenham Gold Cup credentials.

Third in last year’s blue riband, Protektorat – part owned by Sir Alex Ferguson – ran out the 11-length winner of the Grade 1 Betfair Chase at Haydock Park in November.

But a five-and-a-quarter length beating behind Ahoy Senor, Sounds Russian and Noble Yeats on Saturday saw Protektorat pushed out to 20-1 for the Cheltenham Festival feature.

And the gelding’s trainer said on Sunday: “I hold my hands up – that horse did not underperform because he’s a deteriorated horse.

“That horse underperformed because I didn’t have him fully fit.

“I thought he would win and the thing you feel immediately afterwards is complete disappointment because that isn’t up to his Haydock form.

“Now, I never expected to see a Haydock performance yesterday because he was in the 90-per-cent fitness category, not the 100-per-cent. The truth was he was more like in the 80s.”

Protektorat is part-owned by Sir Alex Ferguson

Protektorat will now embark on a stringent fitness regime in order to reach concert pitch on March 17.

“We’re still on for the Gold Cup – 100 per cent,” added Skelton.

“He gets an easy week this week and then he gets the full programme up to the Gold Cup.

“Whatever happened yesterday, he was going to end up getting the full programme anyway, but it’s now even more important that he does get it.

“We’ve got some work to do. We can get our sleeves rolled up and we can get stuck into that work.”

Echoes In Rain was cut to 4-1 (from 10-1) for the Close Brothers Mares’ Hurdle at Cheltenham after posting a 10-length win – market rival Bob Olinger disappointed in third – in the Grade 3 Limestone Lad Hurdle at Naas yesterday.

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