Henderson backing Jonbon to mount strong Champion challenge

By Sports Desk March 12, 2024

Nicky Henderson is optimistic Jonbon can give familiar foe El Fabiolo a run for his money when they clash for a third time in the Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase at Cheltenham on Wednesday.

Jonbon was a narrow victor when the top-class pair first clashed in a Grade One novice hurdle at Aintree in April 2022, but El Fabiolo took his revenge 12 months ago when running out a facile winner of the Arkle Trophy.

With Jonbon making a fine start to his season with wins in the Shloer Chase at Cheltenham and the Tingle Creek at Sandown, and El Fabiolo successful on his reappearance in the Hilly Way at Cork, their rivalry was scheduled to resume in January’s Clarence House Chase, but the abandonment of racing at Ascot meant they instead went their separate ways.

While El Fabiolo stretched his unbeaten record over fences to six at the Dublin Racing Festival, Jonbon suffered a shock reverse in a rescheduled Clarence House on Cheltenham Trials day, with Henderson of the opinion that the extra week proved detrimental to his charge.

“I was really looking forward to Ascot and the clash with El Fabiolo, we were in absolute tip-top shape and I was very confident for that, we were very prepared for it,” he said.

“Jonbon is the one horse, when you’ve wound up the clock, a week was a long time for him, I couldn’t wind him up anymore and it gave us a headache of a week.

“They’ll go some gallop in the Champion Chase and I think that suits him. It looks as if Edwardstone has come into pacemaking duties and he looked very good at Newbury, but in some ways I don’t think that is a bad thing for us.”

El Fabiolo will look to provide Willie Mullins and Paul Townend with a third successive Champion Chase victory following the back-to-back triumphs of Energumene.

Townend said: “He’s made the step into open company well this year and goes here off the back of a good win at the Dublin Racing Festival. He’s another exciting one for the week.”

Edwardstone won the 2022 Arkle for Alan King, and while he was no match for Jonbon in either the Shloer or the Tingle Creek earlier in the season, he looked right back to his best under a positive ride in last month’s Game Spirit Chase at Newbury.

“He’s never really been away and his two runs behind Jonbon were very good. All right his run at Kempton over two and a half (miles) didn’t work, which was disappointing, but he has done very little wrong in his life,” said King.

“He’s in good order, but this is a totally different ball game to the Game Spirit.”

On whether Edwardstone could attempt to make all the running, the trainer added: “We’ll worry about tactics on the day, but there will be plenty of pace on and the Tizzard horse (Elixir De Nutz) will go forward. We’re certainly not going to drop him in, but we’ll see what happens.

“We’ve had a good preparation, but it’s up to him now. It’s nice to be part of it, but I’m not going there with any great expectations that we are going to win it.”

Elixir De Nutz was the horse that inflicted defeat upon Jonbon in the Clarence House, a first Grade One success for trainer Joe Tizzard and his nephew rider Freddie Gingell.

Tizzard feels he merits his place in the Champion Chase field, even if he is a big outsider.

He said: “He’s in top nick and Fred had a sit on him last Monday. He’s ready to go.

“He’s probably had his Gold Cup this season but if there are any flaws in the others, then he will be bang there.”

The Henry de Bromhead-trained Captain Guinness was best of the rest behind Energumene in last year’s renewal and is back for more after placing third behind El Fabiolo at Leopardstown.

“He was just a bit unfortunate at Christmas, but other than that he’s been brilliant,” said De Bromhead.

“It would be amazing if he could go one better than last year, fingers crossed.”

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