Every jockey dreams of days like these. Two brilliant, front-running, joy-filled, back-to back rides over the Sandown fences to win two of the great races in the calendar. That’s what Harry Skelton did yesterday on Allmankind and Politologue, when all his 30 years of life linked together.
For Allmankind, who took the Henry VIII Chase on only his second outing over fences, is trained by Harry’s older brother Dan, while Politologue is handled by Paul Nicholls, for whom Harry began riding some 12 years ago and who saddled the second in both races yesterday. In a further cat’s cradle of linking strands, Politologue carried the yellow silks of John Hales, the owner of the great show jumper Arko III, who the Skelton’s gold-winning father Nick took to the Athens Olympics and was five times European Horse of the Year.
But that was the past. At Sandown Harry galloped us through the most glorious of presents. Allmankind is the sort of runaway horse who comes with a health warning, especially over fences. But with a hood to keep out extraneous sound, a sheepskin noseband to keep his head down, along with the older Skelton sibling’s training routine and the younger one’s hands and heart up above, he has harnessed his energy into spring-heeled effectiveness.
Jumping at this pace — and Allmankind ran the two miles half a second quicker than Politologue — puts huge pressure on opponents, particularly when you attack over the seven fences down the back straight alongside the rail line into Waterloo.
“He was electric,” said Harry. “His jumping there helped me fill him up. You have to be brave with him and he has a big heart to keep going at the end. It was a great thrill.”
Allmankind is now set to be a main contender for the Arkle Chase and will probably have only one run before that. In his ever competitive way, Nicholls is prepared to tackle him again with Hitman, on whom he thought his stable jockey Harry Cobden was slightly outsmarted by the elan of the other Harry’s jumping on the back straight.
Nicholls has the gift of transferring his enthusiasm into the horses under his care. Politologue won the Tingle Creek in 2018 and after finishing well beaten in this race last year was freshened up to win the Champion Chase at Cheltenham in March. Yesterday was his first run since.
A great one it was too. With his grey ears cocked forward, his neck set steady and Skelton sending waves of confidence down the rein, Politologue gave Sandown a master class which was too much for Rouge Vif and the other Nicholls runner, Greanteen.
“We’ve changed his routine and I was really confident coming into the race,” said Politologue’s trainer before adding that he was sorry that Altior had been withdrawn because of the soft ground, as he was happy to renew an argument so far settled in the other horse’s favour. March will be a much awaited showdown.
Amazing things happened at Aintree, where former Gold Cup winner Native River and last season’s Gold Cup second Santini were outgunned by the outsider Lake Side Lad, and the veteran Vieux Lion Rouge won the Becher Chase for the second time. But the day belonged to a young man who afterwards stood on top of the world reflecting on the bumps and bruises along the climb. As a 19-year-old and already a rising star in the Nicholls team, Harry Skelton won the Irish Grand National, but the early promise stalled and four years later he was out of the Nicholls camp with only eight winners for the season.
When he and his brother then started out together there were many who thought Dan was allowing fraternal loyalty to cloud his judgment. With both brothers now championship contenders, yesterday was the ultimate in fulfilment.