A Grade One winner over hurdles as a juvenile and a top-level scorer too as a novice chaser last term, a mark of 160 ensured Allmankind shouldered the steadier of 11st 10lb in this Grade Two.
Trainer Dan Skelton had given him a prep run over hurdles at Chepstow this month – and while he could finish only third as favourite on that occasion, he made no mistake back over the bigger obstacles.
A noted front-runner, Harry Skelton’s mount was swiftly into stride, with Killer Clown and Itchy Feet trying to make their presence felt in the early exchanges as Allmankind set a decent pace.
He built up a couple of lengths lead at one point, but at the top of the straight there were really only three in contention – with Midnight Shadow travelling well in the hands of Ryan Mania.
A mistake from Allmankind three fences out briefly handed the initiative to Midnight Shadow, but the 9-4 favourite took the last obstacle much better to grab back the lead – and he kept finding for pressure all the way to the line.
Itchy Feet, who made a couple of errors in his fencing, finished with real purpose but was beaten a length at the line – with the same distance back to Midnight Shadow in third.
Paddy Power make Allmankind a 10-1 from 20s for the Ryanair Chase at the Cheltenham Festival, while he is 20s from 33-1 for the Queen Mother Champion Chase.
The winning handler said: “He’s magic. Everything went well the whole pre-season, and I knew I had to go to Chepstow over hurdles to get a run into him, because I was saying the whole way along that he can’t win here unless he gets a run in – so it was so important that he got that run in over hurdles.
“There’s not many horses that you can switch hurdles to fences and back and know that you’re going to get that consistency with – but he breaks a lot of rules, this horse.
“He’s only five years old and he’s just won a handicap off 160 – it’s big, and I’m very proud of the horse, forget all the rest. He doesn’t know how to let himself down or anyone around, and he’s just an absolute credit to the game.
“He wants to win, and it’s just a great attitude to have – some are born with it, and some aren’t. To have that desire, and ability to match, is unusual – and that’s why he’s top-class. He’s just a fantastic horse to have anything to do with.”
Skelton has a long-term plan to return to Aintree in the spring. His route to the Melling Chase has yet to be determined – although it will be limited.
He added: “We’ll forget future plans for now – this was his big day, and he’s only a five-year-old. There won’t be any big plans, and we’ll just look after him. Ultimately he’ll come back here for the Melling Chase, and he’ll get one run between now and then.
“I’m not going to over-race him – let’s not empty the well, and leave something there for when he’s seven, eight and nine. If you over-race him this year, you’re going to inevitably come to the end of your journey with him – and I don’t want that.
“Ultimately next year I think he’ll race over three miles, and I said last year that Cheltenham wasn’t really his track. He might not even run this side of Christmas, but we’re all very proud of him, and I can’t tell you how much I love him.”
Itchy Feet was third in the race 12 months ago, and went one place better this year – a performance which pleased his trainer Olly Murphy.
He said: “He ran a cracker. He’s a horse that I think is going to be going up in trip before too long – and I thought on the whole he jumped a lot better in what looked a warm renewal, so it’s a good starting point.
“He’s a good horse and he just needs everything to go right – and Dan’s horse had a run, and this is our starting point.
“We’ll be going up in trip at some point. I’m not sure where we’re going next, but he’s a horse who’s going to be competing in all the good races.”