The media would have you believe that the last 3 days of racing at Cheltenham were a defining moment in Dan Skelton's pursuit of a first Trainer's Championship. I'm not so sure the Skelton camp would see it that way, not least because most trainers' plans are not totally concentric around Cheltenham plans. There are many other big races through the season, including the emerging importance of Aintree.
Nevertheless, Skelton's rollercoaster weekend certainly enhanced his chances, readily outpointing his main rivals in Paul Nicholls and Nicky Henderson for that coveted Number One position.
Well - regarded novices My Drogo and Third Time Lucki met contrasting fortunes in their races over 2m4f and the minimum trip on consecutive days. My Drogo, who overbalanced after jumping the second last a little too well, pitched Skelton Jnr out of the saddle with the race pretty much won. Independently, the Irish raider Gin On Lime, ridden by poster girl Rachael Blackmore, was also down on his knees, but Blackmore retained her balance, gave the horse time to get to his feet and hack cantered home as she pleased. It was the sort of race that might have given Clerk of Course Simon Claisse, retiring this weekend, his first void race in 20 years.
Not so Third Time Lucki, who acquitted himself well and less dramatic fashion in winning the Grade II November Novices Chase, now switched to Saturday, for a second Cheltenham victory within a month, and a 10/1 price for the Arkle in 4 months time.
Protektorat, winner of the Grade I Mildmay Novices at Aintree in the spring, was running on well to reach second in the weekend's feature Paddy Power Gold Cup under top weight. Based on that performance, he looks bound for conditions chases, and a trip to the Savills Chase at Leopradstown over Christmas has been mooted.
But a magical 35 minutes on Sunday will keep the Skelton yard buzzing for a while yet. Nube Negra stalked Politologue and Put The Kettle On like a cat stalks a mouse in the Shloer Chase, and demonstrated why he will be hard to beat back here in March, whilst West Cork showed his novice form was no flash in the pan by winning the Unibet Greatwood Hurdle by 3/4l, under fearsome driving from Harry Skelton, who dropped his stick before the last. But perhaps the most remarkable element of this story is that the horse was returning from no less than 631 days off the track.