It was always going to be a red letter day at Warwick for Dan Skelton, so no man can have been more anxious to see a day aborted by the weather on Saturday rescheduled to today. BHA has shown admirable flexibility in their programming, made easier by the impact of the weather on the intended fixtures today. And so it turned out.
I have happy memories of this day as one time manager and clerk of the course at Warwick. This day's racing was among the first "Trials" days, set up with the backing of John Poynton, one time owner of Coventry City FC in the halcyon days of them winning an FA Cup under the management of John Sillett. Both were keen racing fans who needed little encouragement to bring the team on a day out for a fixture that at that juncture was staged mid week and lured a crowd in excess of 2,500.
Warwick's strength as a course is in developing the jumping expertise of novices. Any novice chaser who can meet the five fences in the back straight correctly before the final two in the home straight can progress to greater things. The Duke used to swear by novice chases at Warwick. And so it turned out today.
Allmankind, apple of Skelton's eye, cemented his place as third favourite for the Arkle Trophy with a 17l victory in the Grade II Kingmaker Chase, although he'll have to sharpen his jumping in four weeks time. Blunders at the first, ninth and tenth can charitably be put down to a lack of concentration in a small field. But as a comprehensive statement of intent, it served its purpose.
Benny's Oscar started the day well for the Alcester Skelton team in a race that has delivered winners of the Ballymore Novices on many previous occasions. A generation ago, this race produced winners of the calibre of Thetford Forest (O Sherwood) and Rebel Song (O Sherwood), both of whom went on to Ballymore success. The race has since lost some tarnish and its place has largely been taken by the Grade II Leamington Hurdle at the January fixture.
In any case, the Ballymore has become an Irish benefit in recent years. Only 8 of the last 20 winners have been trained in Britain, the last being Ben Pauling's Willoughby Court in 2017.
Meanwhile, the weather has been playing a poor hand to contenders hoping to secure qualification for next month's Foxhunter Chase at Cheltenham. Of 20+ Hunter chases programmed prior to the entry stage on March 2, four alone were lost last week, amply justifying the efforts of early season winners who won their open races before Lockdown 2. You can't hep but feel this may be the year when horses who have run in this race previously will hold home advantage.