Warwick’s extra meeting on Tuesday provided the latest setting in what is already becoming a fascinating duel between multiple-champion trainer Paul Nicholls and his former assistant Dan Skelton, writes David Hucker.
With Wincanton’s turf deemed too hard to race on, the meeting was switched to Warwick and it provided racegoers with an unexpected bonus after Saturday’s Think Pink Ladies Night. Although the new jumps season is only just over two weeks old, the tussle between the master and his apprentice to become champion trainer added another dimension to the seven-race card.
Despite saddling a career-best 171 winners last season, Nicholls failed to land an 11th title when finishing runner-up to Nicky Henderson. He came into the meeting with five wins on the board, earning prize money of more than £42,000 but it was Skelton, with 14 wins and over £86,000 in earnings, who was setting the pace at the top of the table.
Skelton, who also posted a career-best total with 118 winners last campaign, had already added to his score with Ravens Hill at Sedgefield before Mister Showman lined up in the Magic Weekend Rugby Betting at 188Bet Novices’ Hurdle. He couldn’t make it another winner however as, after making most of the running with Bridget Andrews, he only managed second behind 9-2 shot Argus
The two then went head-to-head in the feature 188Bet.co.uk Novices’ Chase and it was Nicholls who landed the first prize of £13,436 with El Bandit, who comfortably beat his rival’s Shelford, with the only other runner Vote Of Confidence pulling up.
The pendulum swung once more when Too Many Diamonds became another winner for Skelton at Sedgefield, before Rebel Rebellion and Bryony Frost flew the flag for the Nicholls yard in the 188Bet Open Hunters’ Chase to close the gap again.
Skelton’s day was far from over, as he had three more runners to saddle at Southwell’s evening meeting. For Nicholls, it was a return to his Ditcheat stables to plan his next foray and how to beat the rising star whom, it would seem, he had taught rather too well.