Jonbon took the step up in trip in his side as he roared back to his best with a brave success in the My Pension Expert Melling Chase at Aintree.

Nicky Henderson’s eight-year-old has been campaigned solely at two miles so far over fences and won both the Shloer Chase and Tingle Creek in the early stages of this campaign.

However, a narrow reverse in the rearranged Clarence House was followed by missing the Champion Chase at the Cheltenham Festival as Henderson effectively shut down his operation on account of the poor stable form.

Trying two and a half miles for the first time, Jonbon (11-10 favourite) travelled supremely in the hands of Nico de Boinville, with Jack Kennedy keen to make this a stiff stamina test sending Conflated to the lead where he was closely shadowed by Pic D’Orhy and Minella Drama.

Jonbon and Protektorat were always hot on that trio’s tail and as Kennedy continued to pour on the coal aboard Conflated down towards two out, Jonbon loomed menacingly with Protektorat staying on strongly.

Nico de Boinville edged Jonbon to a narrow advantage jumping the last and the Seven Barrows star pulled out all the stops as he kept on right to the line to hold off the game Conflated, with Protektorat back in third after a thrilling conclusion to the Grade One event.

Dan Skelton’s Ryanair hero Protektorat has the My Pension Expert Melling Chase in his sights at Aintree.

The nine-year-old comes into the meeting off the back of a triumphant Cheltenham Festival, where he was the winner of the Ryanair Chase by a convincing four lengths.

There was subsequently some talk of him stepping back up in distance in Liverpool but, as the ground is set to be testing, connections have decided to stick at the two-and-a-half-mile trip over which he won the Manifesto Novices’ Chase on Merseyside in 2021.

Skelton said: “We decided we’d stick to two and a half on this ground. I think if the ground was really decent, we’d have made a different decision but when the ground is like this, the decision is almost made for you.

“We’ll go and give it a whirl and I’m very happy with him at home – he flew up the hill on Tuesday morning.

“For some reason, he’s taking his racing better than he ever has, I don’t know whether that’s age, strength or a combination, but he’s in good form.”

Paul Nicholls has Pic D’Orhy in the race, last year’s winner and a horse enjoying a good season so far, having won twice in three runs.

He took both the 1965 Chase and the Ascot Chase either side of finishing second in the Silviniaco Conti Chase at Kempton in January behind Joseph O’Brien’s Banbridge.

“I’ve always believed in this horse and am very proud of what he has achieved over the last two seasons,” the trainer told Betfair.

“With a better jump at the last fence, it would have been even closer between him and Banbridge in the Silviniaco Conti Chase at Kempton and he was giving 3lb to the narrow winner.

“That was a career best by Pic D’Orhy, who is in top form at home and beat two smart horses at Ascot last time.

“There are some classy types in opposition again in this Grade One but he is classy, too, and I’ve kept him for this race, which he won 12 months ago. He worked impressively on Saturday.”

Nicky Henderson’s Jonbon missed his Cheltenham engagement as the stable was in ill health but he returns to action for this race for a step up in trip, having been a two-miler to date.

His most recent run came in the rerouted Clarence House Chase, held at Cheltenham as the Ascot meeting was abandoned due to frost, where he finished second to an outsider in Joe Tizzard’s Elixir De Nutz.

“The Clarence House was disappointing, he never got into a rhythm on the day to be fair. He hadn’t settled into it as one would have liked and he got untidy,” Henderson told Unibet.

“Having said that, you felt he was still a little bit unlucky not to win really, but it would have been a messy performance.

“I’m looking forward to running him over two and a half (miles) for the first time because I think that really will suit him.

“He’s a horse that wants to be going forwards, and then he can really enjoy himself. He’s been in very good form and Nico (de Boinville) has been schooling him every other day and he loves it.

“I’m hopeful, everybody is happy with him. He might be better on good ground but he’s won on soft and heavy and when he’s right, I think he’s very good. I think he’s a horse the others have to beat.

“If he gets this far, how far will he get? He could just be like Shishkin. He’s proving himself at two miles but why switch, but he jumped from two to three miles in one season?”

Elsewhere in the race is Envoi Allen, Henry de Bromhead’s 2023 Ryanair Chase winner who finished second in the contest this year.

Gordon Elliott will saddle Conflated, a Gigginstown House Stud-owned 10-year-old who took the third-place spot in the Ryanair and has been chosen for this contest over the Grand National.

Willie Mullins has a single runner in Easy Game, whereas Donald McCain runs last season’s Melling third in Minella Drama.

Jonbon steps up to two and a half miles for the first time in Friday’s ultra-competitive My Pension Expert Melling Chase at Aintree.

Nicky Henderson’s charge has won multiple Grade Ones over the minimum trip but connections have been minded to try him over further for some time.

Having missed the Cheltenham Festival due to concerns over the form of his string, Henderson will be hoping for a better display than the one which saw him beaten at 1-4 in the rearranged Clarence House Chase when he made several jumping errors.

Taking him on are this year’s Ryanair winner Protekorat and the 2022 winner of that race Envoi Allen.

Protekorat had spent a large part of the previous two seasons running over three miles but excelled dropped in trip last month, while Envoi Allen put up a game defence of his title in second.

Paul Nicholls won the race last year with Pic D’Orhy and the nine-year-old is back again searching for a valuable win for his handler in the race to be champion trainer.

Gordon Elliott’s Conflated also runs in this in preference to the Grand National, with Easy Game and Minella Drama completing the field.

Two smart mares, Golden Ace and Dysart Enos, will meet again in the TrustATrader Top Novices’ Hurdle.

Fergal O’Brien’s Dysart Enos came out on top when they met in a Grade Two bumper at this meeting 12 months ago but she was denied her chance to go for glory at Cheltenham due to a minor setback.

In her absence Jeremy Scott’s Golden Ace won the Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle, beating some well-touted Irish contenders.

Standing in their way is Willie Mullins’ Supreme runner-up Mystical Power, the third Firefox and Ben Pauling’s promising Personal Ambition in a field of eight.

There are six in the Huyton Asphalt Franny Blennerhassett Memorial Mildmay Novices’ Chase and none can be confidently ruled out.

Cheltenham winner Inothewayurthinkin and Kim Bailey’s Chianti Classico will have plenty of supporters.

Henry de Bromhead sends over Heart Wood, Broadway Boy gets the chance to atone for missing Cheltenham, with Giovinco and Iroko not out of it either.

The Mullins-trained Dancing City and Readin Tommy Wrong, Shanagh Bob, Croke Park and The Jukebox Man, agonisingly reeled in by Stellar Story in the Albert Bartlett, are among nine in the Cavani Sartorial Menswear Sefton Novices’ Hurdle.

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