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Allmankind will head to Ayr

Allmankind is set to head to Ayr for the Jordan Electrics Ltd Future Champion Novices’ Chase over two and a half miles.

Dan Skelton has decided to step the five-year-old up in trip, following his first defeat over fences in the Arkle at Cheltenham.

Hassled for the lead throughout by Captain Guinness, his effort had petered out by the home straight as Shishkin breezed to an impressive win.

“I think we got put in our place quite unanimously by Shishkin, so I’m going to try him up in trip actually,” Skelton told Racing TV.

“I think we might even go to Ayr, over two and a half, and it gives him a little longer (to get over Cheltenham). He did put everything into that race.

“We’re not afraid to run him. He’s only a novice once, and that is why we’ll get him out once more.”

Skelton endured a frustrating Cheltenham Festival, with several horses placed and none getting closer than Nube Negra in the Champion Chase.

“Nube Negra will go for the Celebration Chase at Sandown,” said the Warwickshire trainer.

“At the moment that is where he’s going, touch wood.”

Another to claim the silver medal at Prestbury Park was stablemate Langer Dan in the Martin Pipe, just five days after he had won the Imperial Cup, but Skelton feels he may have faced a stiff task in any case against the winner Galopin Des Champs.

“Langer Dan won’t run again (this season). He ran only five days later, and you’ve got to congratulate him on a good end of his season,” said Skelton.

“He bumped into one. I think we’ll be seeing that one in some Grade Ones – he looks very good.”

Shishkin out to prove another Arkle star for Henderson

Shishkin is all the rage to become the latest Nicky Henderson-trained star to claim victory in the Sporting Life Arkle Challenge Trophy.

First successful with Remittance Man in 1991, the Seven Barrows handler has now racked up a record six victories in the prestigious two-mile novice chase on the opening day of the Festival.

Sprinter Sacre went on to establish himself as one of the greatest chasers of the modern era following a runaway Arkle success in 2012, while Altior weaved a similar path to superstardom after striking Arkle gold in 2017.

Like Altior, Shishkin is out to double his Festival tally following victory in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle – and having barely put a foot wrong in three starts over fences, the seven-year-old is long odds-on to enhance his already huge reputation.

“Everybody thinks these races are exciting, but I’m not sure we do!” said Henderson.

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“There’s a lot at stake, and we have to sit and suffer.

“Our first Arkle winner was Remittance Man, who was a spectacular jumper. Sprinter Sacre was probably the most flamboyant of them all – and Altior was pretty deadly.

“This fellow has just been very good. I think Shishkin’s performance in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle was pretty good, because he was literally taken into the car park at the second-last, and to get back up and win was a pretty solid performance.

“He probably hasn’t had a lot of opposition over fences, but he’s been very clinical and very accurate and has done it well every time.

“He comes in with 10 ticks for all three runs, to be honest with you, even if he didn’t have to beat anything very sensational.

“He is in good form and has proven that he’s top-class – and he’s had a good run-in.”

Following the enforced withdrawal of the Willie Mullins-trained Energumene because of injury, the biggest threat to Shishkin appears to be the Dan Skelton-trained Allmankind.

Allmankind on his way to winning the Kingmaker Novices' Chase at Warwick
Allmankind on his way to winning the Kingmaker Novices’ Chase at Warwick (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

A tearaway juvenile hurdler last season, the five-year-old has appeared more amenable since having his attentions switched to the larger obstacles, which has enabled him to win each of his three starts.

Skelton said: “I’m really happy with him and was really happy with his prep run in the Kingmaker at Warwick – it did its job.

“He’s fresh and well and ready to go, so we’re looking forward to it.”

In Energumene’s absence, Mullins relies on Franco De Port to provide him with a fifth Arkle success. He was 10 lengths behind his stablemate when runner-up in last month’s Irish Arkle at Leopardstown.

Captain Guinness (De Bromhead), Eldorado Allen (Colin Tizzard) and Numitor (Heather Main) complete the sextet.

Gredley relishing Allmankind’s part in what promises to be Arkle to savour

Owner Tim Gredley is savouring the prospect of Allmankind’s bid for Cheltenham glory in the Sporting Life Arkle Challenge Trophy.

The five-year-old is unbeaten over fences from three runs, including a triumph in the Grade One Henry VIII Novices’ Chase at Sandown and a wide-margin win in the Kingmaker at Warwick.

His next assignment will be on the opening day of the Festival, and will see him clash with Nicky Henderson’s Shishkin, also a Grade One winner and unbeaten over hurdles. The Willie Mullins-trained Energumene was also set to be in opposition, but has sadly been ruled out.

Harry Skelton and Allmankind clear the last in the Henry VIII at Sandown
Harry Skelton and Allmankind clear the last in the Henry VIII at Sandown (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

Gredley, who is himself an amateur jockey and former international showjumper, is not intimidated by the prospect and is instead relishing the chance to be involved in what could still be the race of the Festival.

“The whole reason we like to own racehorses is to be in these kind of races,” he said.

“It’s always great when there’s a big build-up to the race and there’s a good story for each horse.

“If we come out second or third best or if we win, it’s just great to be part of the build-up and the story – that’s what it’s all about.

“If he was to go in an odds-on shot against some moderate horses it certainly wouldn’t give you the same kind of buzz.”

Though this year’s Arkle does look to be a notably strong renewal, Gredley – who owns the Sea The Moon gelding together with his father, Bill, is bolstered by the occasionally fortuitous nature of jumps racing and concludes that there are few forgone conclusions in the sport.

“The great thing about jumps racing is that you can throw the same bunch of horses in the same race on a different day and you get a different result every time,” he said.

“It’s not always the case that the same horse wins, we’ve only had a small amount of jumps horses but that’s one thing I’ve really enjoyed about it.

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“If you get beaten one day, don’t be too disappointed because there’s every chance you can go again and beat them.”

Third in the Triumph Hurdle 12 months ago, Allmankind was a 14-length winner when last seen under Harry Skelton in the Kingmaker, but arguably did not jump with his usual fluency and made a significant error two fences from home.

Trainer Dan Skelton attributed the blunder to the testing going and did not seem to harbour any concerns about the horse’s jumping technique, a conclusion echoed by Gredley.

“I do genuinely think that the ground was really desperate that day,” he said.

“Harry said it was something he’s never really encountered and he could tell even cantering down to the start that all the horses in the race weren’t quite comfortable with where their feet were.

“When you’re being asked to jump a big obstacle, you want to know where you’re landing and I don’t blame him for second guessing a few times to be honest.

“Horses have to hit those fences like that to learn from their mistakes, it’s testament to their character how they take it.

“He won his first few races from just taking off outside the wings and he’s not going to be able to do that his whole career.

“He survived it, that’s always the most important thing, and Cheltenham’s another day.”

That positive, forward-facing outlook is something that Gredley shares with the Skelton team, an operation he credits as being masterful in preparing a horse for a specific, long-held goal.

“I’ve got a few horses with them and their positivity and optimism is quite infectious, they’ve got that sort of attitude,” he said.

Allmankind in full flight at Warwick
Allmankind in full flight at Warwick (David Davies/PA)

“The guys are good at making a target and then pulling it off, obviously the Arkle has been Allmankind’s main aim and that’s not to say that he wasn’t fit for his other races, but Harry said he’s never felt better than he does now.”

The Gredley family silks are more likely to be associated with the Flat racing sphere, with the much-loved long-distance specialist Big Orange their most recent flagbearer on the level.

Indeed, Allmankind began his career at the Flat stable of Michael Bell, the same trainer responsible for the success of Big Orange, and Gredley notes the two horses have more in common than may be expected.

“One thing we’re not worried about with Allmankind is his stamina, it’s a bit like when Big Orange was in the Ascot Gold Cup – if he’s in the lead and he’s not off the bridle swinging round that last corner then he’s got every chance,” he said.

Big Orange leads the field in the Ascot Gold Cup
Big Orange leads the field in the Ascot Gold Cup (John Walton/PA)

Gredley’s venture into the world of National Hunt is not only proving to be highly successful, but is also providing him with an insight into the camaraderie among jump racing fans and the great sense of anticipation that builds before the Festival.

“I only had my first runner at Cheltenham last year, but I’m learning with the Festival that when a horse starts to build up a reputation, everybody has an opinion and everybody thinks their opinion is right, like we all do – that’s what the game’s all about,” he said.

“We need these big festivals, both Flat and jumping, to get everybody interested, I’ve been amazed at how many people I know socially that I didn’t think were racing people but are following Allmankind because of the Cheltenham Festival.”

Like all owners, Gredley will not be able to watch his horse perform in person, but counters that the longer career-span of jumpers will provide plenty of opportunities to watch Allmankind run once restrictions are eased.

Tim Gredley aboard Bivouac ahead of their victory in the 2017 Newmarket Plate, a Flat race for amateurs held at Newmarket
Tim Gredley aboard Bivouac ahead of their victory in the 2017 Newmarket Plate, a Flat race for amateurs held at Newmarket (Nigel French/PA)

“It’s a real shame, but one of the enjoyments of jumps racing is that these horses come back year after year,” he said.

“It’s not like with Ascot, if you’ve got a two-year-old or a three-year-old that’s their year and it’s the be-all and end-all.”

For Gredley the sole benefit of viewing from home could be an easing in the pre-race nerves he suffers when watching his horses run.

“I get very nervous, I’m dreadful,” he said.

“I try to pretend I’m all right, but just as they’re cantering to the start I normally walk off on my own and try to find a screen somewhere and watch it alone.

“But whether we win, lose or draw, honestly, the most important thing for me is that he comes back safe and sound – I really mean that.”

The Cheltenham Festival will be broadcast on ITV Racing March 16-19. For more info visit greatbritishracing.com

Arkle promises a cracker as ‘big three’ all stand ground

The big three – Shishkin, Energumene and Allmankind – have all stood their ground in the Sporting Life Arkle Trophy for what promises to be one of the races of the week at Cheltenham.

Twelve horses were left in following the confirmation stage – but all eyes will be on the trio, who are unbeaten over fences.

Shishkin, last year’s Supreme Novices’ Hurdle winner, flies the flag for Nicky Henderson. The seven-year-old has looked a natural over fences, with two impressive victories at Kempton and one at Doncaster.

Energumene, trained by Willie Mullins, has been just as convincing in Ireland – chalking up a hat-trick which culminated in the Irish version of the Arkle at Leopardstown last month.

Dan Skelton’s Allmankind has done everything asked of him so far too, with Grade One success at Sandown sandwiched by two wins at Warwick.

Mullins also has Blackbow and Franco De Port in the reckoning for Tuesday, while Felix Desjy could be Denise Foster’s first Festival runner since she took over the licence from Gordon Elliott following his suspension.

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Dual Grade One winner Appreciate It heads 18 confirmations for the opening race of the four-day Festival, the Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle.

Mullins’ charge has been clear ante-post favourite after winning all the his three starts over the smaller obstacles – including the Paddy Power Future Champions Novice and the Chanelle Pharma Novice, both at Leopardstown. He was runner-up in last year’s Champion Bumper.

Mullins has four other possibles in Blue Lord, Galopin Des Champs, Ganapathi and M C Muldoon.

Ballyadam, who was moved from Elliott’s stables last week by owners Cheveley Park Stud, is one three for Henry de Bromhead. Grade One scorer Bob Olinger and Irascible are the County Waterford trainer’s other possible representatives.

Metier is the main British hope in the Sky Bet Supreme Novices' Hurdle
Metier is the main British hope in the Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

Leading the home challenge is the Harry Fry-trained Metier, winner of the Tolworth Hurdle, and Betfair Hurdle victor Soaring Glory from Jonjo O’Neill’s stable.

The Skeltons have a leading fancy in Roksana in the Close Brothers Mares’ Hurdle, for which 12 stood their ground.

Roksana was handed this prize two years ago after Benie Des Dieux came down at the last. Fourth to Honeysuckle 12 months ago, she also holds an entry in the Paddy Power Stayers’ Hurdle.

Concertista, from the Mullins stable, looks a formidable rival. The seven-year-old landed the Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle here in 2020 and has won two graded races this season.

Great White Shark and My Sister Sarah are the two other Mullins possibles. The Foster-trained Black Tears and Henderson’s pair Dame De Compagnie and Floressa are also in the mix.

Royale Pagaille tops 16 remaining in the Sam Vestey National Hunt Challenge Cup Novices’ Chase, following the six-day stage.

The Venetia Williams-trained seven-year-old completed a hat-trick in the Peter Marsh Chase at Haydock. He also holds entries in the Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase and the WellChild Cheltenham Gold Cup.

David Pipe has confirmed Reynoldstown Chase winner Remastered – while other interesting contenders include the former Elliott-trained Galvin, now with Ian Ferguson, and Next Destination from the Nicholls yard.

Remastered remains in two races at Cheltenham on Tuesday
Remastered remains in two races at Cheltenham on Tuesday (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

Remastered is also one of 31 still in the Ultima Handicap Chase.

Nick Mitchell’s Lieutenant Rocco, the Foster-trained Escaria Ten and Happygolucky, from Kim Bailey’s yard, are among those prominent in the ante-post market.

Gary Moore’s Nassalam and the Mullins-trained Youmdor head the weights, with 28 remaining in the Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle.

Mullins supplies Saint Sam, while the Nicholls-trained Houx Gris and Joseph O’Brien’s Busselton are among others high in the betting.

Allmankind reigns in Kingmaker contest

Allmankind survived a scare at the penultimate obstacle to remain unbeaten over fences in the Agetur UK Kingmaker Novices’ Chase at Warwick.

Dan Skelton’s five-year-old adopted his usual front-running tactics, but Harry Skelton did not seem to be going out of his comfort zone in front.

A feature of his first two victories this season, including at Grade One level last time out, has been his accurate jumping but this time around there were a couple of scruffy leaps.

In testing ground, he was perhaps not quite as exuberant at his fences, but was still able to get away from the obstacles quicker than his rivals.

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Cheddleton soon dropped away, but Sky Pirate was still in contention heading to the last fence in the back straight.

Allmankind (4-7 favourite) met that fence spot on and then got away quickly, but he still had to survive a blunder at the second last before victory was sealed.

Sky Pirate stuck to his task, but Allmankind galloped all the way to the line, coming home 17 lengths clear.

Dan Skelton said: “I was happy with the result, but all the way round it was a little concerning. The ground is testing here and he got stuck in the jumps a little.

“You can’t be asking for too many big jumps on this ground and that’s why he couldn’t get into a rhythm as he sometimes does.

“He showed a great attitude to get stuck in, he put his head down for the line. He won quite authoritatively in the end.

“He showed today he can get himself into some unusual positions at the fences and knows how to get out of he them and survive them. That is vital. That is something else he has learned today.

“I’ve no concerns about his durability or suitability, but we’re taking on two monsters (Shishkin and Energumene) in a month’s time (in the Arkle at the Cheltenham Festival).”

Harry Skelton said: “(I’m) delighted, job done. The ground is really hard work. We got stuck in it a bit, but he’s pulled right away going to the line.

“He’s a remarkable horse really. He just doesn’t know when to give in. He’s done brilliantly.

“At the second last, he was probably getting stuck in the ground. When you have frost covers down, that is what it does to it. It’s the toughest ground he’s run on, but he went away well at the line.

“To come off the Flat and achieve what he’s done is brilliant. Delighted for the owners. They will be happy.”

Allmankind seeking to reign in Kingmaker heat

Allmankind bids to give his Cheltenham Festival claims a timely boost in the Grade Two Agetur UK Kingmaker Novices’ Chase at Warwick on Monday.

Clear-cut victories on this track and in the Grade One Henry VIII Novices’ Chase at Sandown have made Dan Skelton’s exciting prospect a leading fancy for the Sporting Life Arkle Trophy.

The five-year-old is third favourite at around 10-1 for the two-mile novice championship behind Shishkin and Energumene.

Allmankind needs to maintain his unbeaten record over fences, but he is likely to be tested despite having only three rivals.

“I’m very happy with him. He looks fantastic. I couldn’t be more pleased with him,” said Skelton.

“I think it’s going to be a decent race with Cheddleton and Sky Pirate in there getting weight. It’s a strong race. No excuses, he’s ready to go.”

Sky Pirate is rated just 2lb below Allmankind, who has a 5lb penalty for his Grade One success meaning the former receives 3lb.

Cheddleton, trained by Jenny Candlish, is not out of it on ratings either after winning his last two starts at Carlisle and Haydock.

Charlie Mann’s French import Sacre Coeur completes the quartet, with the meeting having been given the go-ahead following a precautionary inspection on Sunday afternoon.

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French raider Paul’s Saga aims to book her place in the Paddy Power Stayers’ Hurdle at Cheltenham with victory in the St Marys Land Warwick Mares’ Hurdle.

The seven-year-old grey, trained by David Cottin, drops in trip after racing mainly at three miles including when she landed the French Champion Hurdle at Auteuil in October. She has not run since being beaten there in November.

Cottin’s representative Jason Kiely has brought the mare over from France and has been in charge of her preparation.

Speaking on Racing TV’s Luck On Sunday programme, Kiely said: “I’ve been over here with her for a week now and things have been going well.

“From what we have in France, she’s very, very good. She won the rescheduled French Champion Hurdle (in October), which is over three miles. She’s put it up to the boys and beaten everything we have to offer in France and is very consistent.

“She loves the heavy ground. If it was soft in Cheltenham, she’d have a huge chance.

“A win is our main objective tomorrow. If she doesn’t win, it’s going to be very disappointing.

“No disrespect to the field, but we’ve found quite a nice race for her here. It should be an ideal prep run (for Cheltenham) – she can get a look at the English hurdles and Brian (Hughes, jockey) can get a feel for her.

“There’s been a great history in the Stayers’ Hurdle for French runners. David (Cottin) mentioned before Christmas that maybe we’d have a look at Cheltenham with her and he’s kind of left it up to me to find a preparation race and make that goal achievable.

“There’s not much racing in France for us at the moment, so we’ve had to look further afield.”

Skelton believes this is the right race to give Molly Ollys Wishes her first taste of Listed company.

The seven-year-old goes into stronger company on the back of two handicap hurdle wins.

“It’s her first dip into the graded races, but I think this is a nice race to try that in,” said the Alcester trainer.

“Paul’s Saga and Eglantine Du Seuil have slightly higher marks than her, but she has only got to go up the road to do it and she won at the track last year. She is a little better right-handed, but what can we do?

“If Paul’s Saga runs like she does in France, she’ll be very hard to beat.”

The field of six includes Paul Nicholls’ Eglantine Du Seuil, who was third to Roksana at Ascot on her latest start, and the Harry Fry-trained Whitehotchillifili, winner of a Listed heat at Sandown last month.

Oldgrangewood and Spiritofthegames give the Skelton stable a decent hand in a competitive-looking Paddy Power Warwick Castle Handicap Chase and the handler is keen to get both horses back on the track.

“I just feel Spiritofthegames might improve a bit for the run,” said Skelton.

“He got a little cut at Wetherby last time, but this has been Oldgrangewood’s target since Cheltenham got called off twice.

“He’s dressed up twice to go there and it’s been off, so I’m keen to get stuck in tomorrow. It seems a long time since we ran him, but he’s in great form.”

The weights are headed by Venetia Williams’ Aso while the Mick Channon-trained Mister Whitaker and Kim Bailey’s Two For Gold, a Grade Two winner over three miles on this course last season, are among other old favourites in the line-up.

Skelton relaxed on Allmankind preparation for Cheltenham

Dan Skelton would not be worried about the timescale before Cheltenham for Allmankind should the Agetur UK Kingmaker Chase have to be rescheduled.

The current cold snap could cause problems for Saturday’s meeting at Warwick, but Skelton feels there is still enough of a gap before the Sporting Life Arkle Trophy at the Festival on March 16.

“Even if you looked a week down the line you’ve still then got three and a half weeks before the Festival,” the Alcester trainer told Nick Luck’s Daily Podcast.

“I’m not worried about that, and Allmankind is not the type of horse who you’d be complaining about ground or track.

“He is just a simple horse. He just loves to run. Any opportunity you give him to run, he grasps it with both hands and gets on with it and loves it.”

The Arkle is one of the most eagerly-awaited races of the Festival, with Nicky Henderson’s Shishkin and the Willie Mullins-trained Energumene in the line-up.

“At Cheltenham, things can happen. It’s a horse race at the end of the day. They are three very talented, very genuine horses. We always knew Shishkin was going to be a shorter price than us going into the Festival,” said Skelton.

“He won the Supreme and as long as he can jump fences economically he is going to be the favourite or near favourite based on last year’s performances.

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Energumene promises to be threat to all in the Arkle at Cheltenham
Energumene promises to be threat to all in the Arkle at Cheltenham (Niall Carson/PA)

“Energumene is obviously a much better chaser than he was a hurdler. He’s an attacking chasing type and has looked very good. He has looked unbeatable on what he has done so far, but Cheltenham is a different track and things can happen.”

One of Skelton’s main hopes at the Festival is Nube Negra in the Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase.

The seven-year-old leapt into the picture when comfortably accounting for Altior at Kempton in December.

“Nothing frightens me with the way the race is going to be run with Nube Negra, because I’ve got a confident feeling we’re the fastest horse in the race,” said Skelton.

“He travels so well and however fast they go, I think our horse will be in his comfort zone.

“I feel if we get a good round of jumping to the back of three out we’ve probably got as much in the tank as we possibly can to go up the hill. And I think it’s game on then. We’re going to ride Nube Negra for speed.”

Nube Negra was too good for Altior at Kempton
Nube Negra was too good for Altior at Kempton (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

Skelton has no qualms about facing the short-priced favourite Chacun Pour Soi, from the Mullins stable.

“I’m not frightened of taking Chacun Pour Soi on with Nube Negra because I know we will be in our comfort zone,” he said.

“I have no concerns about Cheltenham as he went there as a juvenile twice.

“We’ve got to take lots of positives out of Kempton. We know Chacun is going to be hard to beat, we know Politologue is going to put up a struggle and we know Altior is not done with.

“I go there thinking we have a right chance because this horse will not be under pressure at any point in the race.”

Energumene and Chacun Pour Soi were among nine winners for Mullins at the two-day Dublin Racing Festival at Leopardstown.

Skelton believes the lack of strong opposition gives the Closutton trainer’s Cheltenham contingent an easier path to the Festival.

Chacun Pour Soi looms large for Willie Mullins at Cheltenham
Chacun Pour Soi looms large for Willie Mullins at Cheltenham (Niall Carson/PA)

“It is frustrating watching it. The lack of resistance means you are getting prep races in Grade Ones that aren’t taking anything out of his horses,” he said.

“That is the thing that makes him (Mullins) difficult to beat at Cheltenham, that his prep is easier than everybody else because his horses don’t have to go into the red in their prep races.

“Who is taking the easier route to the biggest day? This is where I think the magnification of Cheltenham is a potential downfall because people know they are going to get a hard race there. They are avoiding hard races en route because they want to go there with their biggest chance.

“That is why I think some races outside of Cheltenham Festival aren’t as supported as they should be because they (trainers and connections) know they are going to get a hard race. If they have a hard race, it’s going to be harder to get over.

“When Willie has a horse in a race he’s basically getting a freebie around the track in Ireland.

“I actually think preparation makes champions. The less you take out of the tank, the more is in there when you need it.”

Skelton sets New Year’s Day target for Protektorat

Protektorat will put his unbeaten record over fences on the line at Cheltenham on New Year’s Day in the Dipper Novices’ Chase.

Trainer Dan Skelton has earmarked the Paddy Power-sponsored Grade Two prize as the next target for the five year-old, who is two from two over the bigger obstacles.

After making a winning fencing debut at Carlisle, the Listed-winning hurdler added to that success when taking a step up to two and half miles in his stride with an impressive victory at Cheltenham last month.

Skelton said: “We’ve talked about it and digested it the best we can and I think we are going to try the Dipper, as he won around Cheltenham last time and two and a half miles on soft ground around there is perfect.

“People are going to be wondering where he is going rather than us looking at who else is going to be in the race.

“We have just got to go our route and decide what is best for us and I think that is best for us.”

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While Skelton was impressed with Protektorat’s victory over two miles on his seasonal return, he believes his latest success over a longer trip was another step forward.

He said: “Cheltenham was even better than Carlisle. He races a bit more relaxed now so that is good, and he finishes his races strong.

“He was upsides Southfield Stone three out and he kicked on and off he goes. If it had been really heavy I would have gone two (miles) last time, but he is definitely happier at two and a half. “

Shan Blue will step back up to Grade One company at Kempton on Boxing Day (Tim Goode/PA)
Shan Blue will step back up to Grade One company at Kempton on Boxing Day (Tim Goode/PA)

Shan Blue will return to Grade One company for the first time since finishing sixth in the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival in March in the Ladbrokes Kauto Star Novices’ Chase at Kempton on Boxing Day.

The six-year-old, who is unbeaten in two starts over fences, was denied an outing at Huntingdon after the meeting was called off due to a waterlogged track.

Skelton said: “Shan Blue will go straight to the Kauto Star now. He has been good in his first two starts this season.

“I got on and ran him early and he had two runs in October which were both around Wetherby, one at two and a half and the other at three, and he jumped great.

“His fitness is perfect and we jump him every week and he will be ready to go on King George day. He was 1-10 on to be better chaser and I’m delighted with how it has gone. You couldn’t have dreamt it would have gone much better.”

Although Shan Blue has yet to race right-handed over fences, Skelton is confident that will not be an issue at Kempton.

He added: “I’ve not got no concerns about him going right-handed as he was second to Shishkin in the Sidney Banks at Huntingdon.

“The race at Huntingdon was there for him and he could have gone there and had a day out on a right-handed flat track as that is where he was going afterwards.

“As it turns out he probably wouldn’t have run even if they had got the meeting on, as the ground would have been testing.”

The Alcester handler plans to give Allmankind a short break following his victory in the Grade One Henry VIII Novices’ Chase at Sandown, before readying him for the Kingmaker Novices’ Chase at Warwick in February.

He said: “Allmankind has come out the Henry VIII fine. He jumped spectacularly well. He jumped slightly out to his left which is his little trick, but it was only more noticeable over the Railway fences.

“He will go for the Kingmaker, then on to the Arkle, then to Aintree. I’m really happy winning a Grade One with him.

“I feel like he sets a decent standard for whoever takes him on next time.”

Harry Skelton enjoys afternoon to savour with Grade One double

Nothing will ever top Harry Skelton’s wedding day – but a Grade One double at Sandown highlighted by a second Betfair Tingle Creek success for Politologue ensured he celebrated another day to remember.

Success on the biggest stage has been plentiful for Skelton in recent seasons, and having steered the Paul Nicholls-trained grey to Queen Mother Champion Chase glory at the Cheltenham Festival in March, the pair teamed up to secure more top-level success together.

Watched by a crowd of 1,827, the 11-8 favourite defeated stablemate Greaneteen by seven lengths, in a race that came immediately after Skelton had partnered Allmankind, trained by his brother, Dan, to victory in the Planteur At Chapel Stud Henry VIII Novices’ Chase.

Skelton said: “It’s not a bad afternoon. Marrying my wife was pretty good so that would have to come top of the list, but this is a close second. It was a magic 45 minutes.

“Politologue was very good. He jumped the first two very well and I felt like I was in control of it then. When he was pricking his ears turning in where the Pond Fence is usually jumped I thought ‘there is plenty left in the tank here’. It is certainly a day I will never forget.

“To be honest I was coming here very relaxed. I knew I had two good rides and on their best form, and if they put their best performances up, they would be bang there and that is exactly what they have done.”

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While the decision made by Nicky Henderson to declare Altior 24 a non-runner on Friday evening robbed the Tingle Creek of some of its gloss, Skelton believes it would have taken something special to stop Politologue claiming the fourth Grade One of his career.

He said: “A horse like Altior is a fantastic horse and he was the strongest competition, but on the ground I’d rode on on Friday wasn’t too worried and they obviously took him out because of that.

“It made the job a bit easier, but it would have taken a good horse to have beaten him today. It is remarkable really.”

Having cut his teeth jumping with Nicholls, the 31-year-old praised the 11-times champion trainer for the part he has played in helping to rejuvenate the career of the John Hales-owned gelding.

He added: “He is getting older, but Paul just seems to make him younger somehow. I’ve sat on him a couple of times this time around in the autumn and a couple of weeks ago I schooled him and he did feel like a young horse. He felt fantastic.

“He is going to be lightly raced and I imagine he might have one run, then go for the Champion Chase. Hopefully I will retain the ride on him.”

Harry Skelton and Politologue in full flight
Harry Skelton and Politologue in full flight (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

Though enjoying plenty of time centre stage lately there was a time not so long ago where winners were hard to come by for Skelton, something he feels makes occasions like this all the more special.

He said: “I rode eight winners one season and I thought the whole world was going to end. It is a rough game and a tough game. Paul has always said take your time, be patient.

“We spent a long time at Ditcheat and we learnt a lot from Paul and today I’ve ridden a Grade One winner for my brother and for Paul. All my racing career and everything I’ve put in has been worth it. I’m very lucky to be in the position I am now. You have got to enjoy it.”

The decision to embark on a career over fences with Allmankind is starting to look an inspired one by connections judging by his latest Grade One triumph, although Skelton revealed there was still a question mark as to whether he would truly take to chasing.

He said: “When we went to Wawrick first time out, if you watched him school at home you would have said ‘crikey’ and wouldn’t have been putting your hand up to ride this one. Going into Warwick we were going into the dark. He basically bolted for two miles.

Allmankind initiated a famous Grade One double for Harry Skelton
Allmankind initiated a famous Grade One double for Harry Skelton (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

“He has obviously got a massive engine, but he probably doesn’t have a lot upstairs and that is what makes him good. He will go through a wall for you and he is a hard stayer at the end of two miles as he has got such a big heart he will keep running and that is what you need.”

Allmankind has a way to go to match the exploits of Politologue over fences, but Skelton believes he can, given time, reach the same heights.

He added: “Allmankind is quite hairy at times, but for him to come round here and do that of the back of little experience is very good.

“They are both very strong staying two-milers. Allmankind has got a hell of a lot to do to live up to do what Politologue has done, but he has started his career off well and he is going in the right direction.”

Allmankind powers to Henry VIII success

Allmankind put in an exemplary round of jumping to maintain his unbeaten record over fences in the Planteur At Chapel Stud Henry VIII Novices’ Chase at Sandown.

After making a winning debut over fences at Warwick, having previously finished third on his final start over hurdles on his seasonal return at Cheltenham, the Dan Skelton-trained four-year-old took another step forward by claiming the second Grade One of his career.

Though pressed for the lead down the back straight by eventual third Ga Law, the Tim and Bill Gredley-owned gelding soon moved back into a clear initiative he would maintain to the line.

Impressive Ffos Las scorer Hitman moved off in pursuit of the 2-1 favourite on the approach to the final two fences, but he could not find the gears to go with Allmankind and two and a half lengths separated the pair at the line.

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Skelton said: “It was brilliant. I’m just delighted we ended up going down the chasing route. We were a little bit head-scratching after his debut run of the season at Cheltenham. Perhaps the horse lulled me into a false sense of fitness that day as I thought he was a lot fitter than he was.

“Tim said let’s go chasing and I thought OK, it’s a bit of a brave man’s route. He wasn’t that great the first couple of schooling sessions at home, but ever since Warwick he just thinks these (fences) are brilliant and loves jumping them. He was a little bit out to his left, but we had a chat beforehand to contain that as much as possible.

“It is great watching those horses over the two-mile chase track here. I’m delighted to be on the winner’s roll with him.”

Assessing future plans Skelton earmarked the Grade Two Kingmaker Novices’ Chase at Warwick in February as possible target, ahead of an outing in the Sporting Life Arkle at the Cheltenham Festival, for which he was cut to 10-1 by Sky Bet and 8-1 by William Hill.

He added: “We will look at the spring targets. We will probably go back to Warwick for the Kingmaker, then look at the Arkle then look at Liverpool as well. He is a pleasure to have and has been a remarkable horse for us, a dual Grade One winner.”

Paul Nicholls will consider stepping runner-up Hitman up in trip on his next start, although he has not ruled out taking on the winner again.

He said: “It was a good run. Harry Skelton nicked it from the back of the Pond Fence and five lengths is hard to get back. It was only the fifth run of his career and second over fences and it was very good.

“All we did was stay on up the hill and his inexperience just caught him out down the back and those Railway fences. I wouldn’t be afraid of taking on the winner again with a bit more experience.

“He might get a bit further and he might be ideal for the Scilly Isles and Pendil.

“It was a good run for a young horse.”

Allmankind dazzles on fencing debut at Warwick

Allmankind put in a perfect round of jumping to make a winning debut over fences with a stylish front-running success at Warwick.

Trainer Dan Skelton saw his decision to switch last season’s Triumph Hurdle third – who filled the same spot on his return to action over hurdles at Cheltenham last month – to fences immediately vindicated in the in the Stan Mellor Memorial Novices’ Chase.

Quickly getting into a good rhythm out in front, Allmankind attacked his fences with plenty of zest before cruising home 13 lengths clear of runner-up Zanza, to form the opening leg of a double for Skelton and his brother Harry.

The Alcester handler said of the even-money favourite: “He had schooled OK at home. His technique and commitment was good, but he just got up to the jump and popped it rather than being exuberant.

“I’d done a load of work with him before Cheltenham, but perhaps he wasn’t that fit. I said to Tom Messenger (assistant) when they got down to the start this horse will be keen today as he looked like he was more on it.

“I was a bit undecided whether to run him on the ground, but I spoke to Tim Gredley (co-owner) last night and he said they are there to compete so credit goes to him. I was honestly delighted with him and I couldn’t expect to see better.

“We will go to the Henry VIII next at Sandown. Here and Sandown are both good jumping tests. Let’s just get on with it and see where we are.”

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Owners Gill Duckworth and Pat Dry left the track in good spirits after Accordingtogino (5-1) completed the Skelton brace when responding well to first-time cheekpieces in the Racing TV Profits Returned To Racing Handicap Chase.

Duckworth said: “It was so exciting and I’m absolutely thrilled. We came here with zero expectations. He went to Lingfield 15 days ago and he wasn’t very good at all.

“When Harry put him out in front today we said let’s have our moment of glory in front, but he never stopped.”

Having worked with the likes of Altior and Buveur D’Air during his time as assistant to Nicky Henderson, trainer Toby Lawes celebrated a first winner in his own name after Kannapolis (100-30) struck gold by nine lengths in the Bet At racingtv.com Handicap Hurdle.

The 28-year-old said: “This means such a huge amount to me and the team at home who have done such a fantastic job and have been very patient.

“It’s great for the team and Andrew Wates whose yard we are in and he is a shareholder in this horse as well.

“It’s a great weight off my mind and hopefully we can keep kicking on.”

Nico de Boinville made his fleeting visit to the course a winning one aboard Bothwell Bridge, who went one better than his two bumper efforts with a facile success in the racingtv.com Novices’ Hurdle.

De Boinville said of the Nicky Henderson-trained 30-100 shot: “We wanted to take a bit of a lead to give him some education – the race fell apart and I was left out in front but he jumped for fun.

“He is forward enough though he did take a bit of a blow jumping the last, that’s why I rode him out at the end.”

Flirtatious Girl maintained Kim Bailey’s recent run of good form on her debut in division one of the British EBF Mares’ Standard Open National Hunt Flat Race, which the 2-1 favourite claimed by a length and a half.

Bailey said: “She was very green, but is as tough as old boots. I’m really pleased as they are not the luckiest of owners so it is great to start off with a nice win.

“Something like the Listed bumper at Huntingdon could be next.”

Allmankind ready for chasing bow

High-class hurdler Allmankind kicks off his career over fences in the Stan Mellor Memorial Novices’ Chase at Warwick on Friday.

Formerly trained on the Flat by Michael Bell, the son of Sea The Moon was thoroughly impressive in winning on his debut over obstacles at this venue 12 months ago – before going on to Grade Two and Grade One success at Cheltenham and Chepstow respectively.

He finished only a fortunate third in the Triumph Hurdle at the Cheltenham in March, however – and after he was beaten as a short-priced favourite on his return to action at Prestbury Park last month, connections have decided to go down a different route.

Trainer Dan Skelton said: “We’ve done plenty of jumping at home over fences with him, and he is good. Those erratic horses like him are the ones that do jump, because their brains are thinking.

“He is a Grade One winner, and I don’t want to spend all year getting beaten with him over hurdles – it’s not good for the owners or the whole team, seeing him getting beaten a load of times.

“He was so mature and active as a three and four-year-old and one of the best of his age. The others have caught up a bit, and by going chasing we are hopefully finding some races he can win.

“I had my mind made up to go over fences halfway up the run-in when he ran at Cheltenham the other day, and Tim Gredley (part-owner) said during the first lockdown that he couldn’t wait to go chasing.

“It took a while to persuade the jockey (Harry Skelton), but we are all on the same page now.”

Allmankind is due to face five rivals in the two-mile contest, including Nicky Henderson’s Fred and the Nigel Twiston-Davies-trained Stolen Silver.

Skelton has high hopes for Allmankind on Cheltenham return

Dan Skelton is pleased with Allmankind as his flamboyant prospect prepares to make his seasonal debut in the Masterson Holdings Hurdle at Cheltenham on Saturday.

The Alcester trainer earmarked this contest as a launching pad some time ago for his four-year-old, who was one of the leading juvenile hurdlers last term.

Allmankind won his first three starts, culminating in the Grade One Finale Hurdle at Chepstow and wound up with third place in a dramatic running of the Triumph Hurdle at the Festival in March.

“Allmankind is in good form and Saturday’s contest has been the plan since the start of the season,” said Skelton.

“It’s an ideal race to run in given it is against four-year-olds, so he can take on his age group one last time before he takes on the older horses.

“He has to carry a penalty, but he is a Grade One winner. I am really happy with him at home and he is ready to start.

“He just ran quite flat at Cheltenham in the Triumph Hurdle. I am not saying he would have beaten Goshen in any case, but he just ran very flat in that race.

“There is no point dwelling on the past and we are looking forward to getting him started. It is a new season, with a new start and new objectives.”

Nordano takes on his old adversary Allmankind at Cheltenham
Nordano takes on his old adversary Allmankind at Cheltenham (Bradley Collyer/PA)
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Neil King’s Nordano finished behind Allmankind twice last season, but won a valuable handicap hurdle at Ascot in February and had a pipe-opener on the Flat at Pontefract three weeks ago.

Botox Has, trained by Gary Moore, was second to Allmankind on this course in November but has been absent since winning back at Cheltenham in December.

Fergal O’Brien is expecting a decent show from veteran Perfect Candidate in the Matchbook Betting Exchange Handicap Chase.

The 13-year-old has been a stalwart at O’Brien’s Naunton yard for nearly eight years now and has three victories to his credit on this course.

The 13-year-old Perfect Candidate is ready to make his seasonal debut at Cheltenham
The 13-year-old Perfect Candidate is ready to make his seasonal debut at Cheltenham (Anthony Devlin/PA)

“Perfect Candidate has been a real superstar for the yard, and we are delighted to see him back,” said O’Brien.

“He loves Cheltenham and goes well fresh, so we are hopeful of a good performance.

“We are looking forward to being back racing at Prestbury Park and hopefully we can continue our good start to the season.”

Course specialist Cogry lines up for another local trainer, Nigel Twiston-Daves.

A four-time winner on the track, Cogry is a regular in this race. Successful in 2017, the 11-year-old was second in 2018 and third 12 months ago.

“Cogry loves the track and is a past winner of the race, so we are hopeful. He is a real old favourite in the yard and goes well fresh,” Twiston-Davies said.

“It is great to be back racing at Cheltenham and it is good to go there with plenty of chances this weekend.”

Manofthemountain has also been declared for Wincanton on Sunday, but trainer Emma Lavelle would prefer to run at Cheltenham as long as the ground does not deteriorate.

“Cheltenham is very much the place we want to go. It’s just with the rain that’s forecast on Saturday afternoon, if the ground went very much on the softer side, then we’d look at going to Wincanton instead,” said the Marlborough handler.

“He’s just got better and better – he’s a big, strong horse who is improving all the time.

“I was absolutely delighted with him at Bangor and he had a nice blow after the race and has come on.

“He definitely deserves a step up in class and we’ll see how we go.”

Frodon and Bryony Frost after their victory in the Ryanair Chase at the 2019 Cheltenham Festival
Frodon and Bryony Frost after their victory in the Ryanair Chase at the 2019 Cheltenham Festival (Paul Harding/PA)

Manofthemountain and Perfect Candidate are 1lb and 2lb out of the handicap respectively as the weights are headed by Frodon, who has to give 17lb and upwards to his rivals.

Paul Nicholls’ classy performer was last seen finishing fourth behind Min in the Ryanair Chase which he had won in 2019.