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The home of intelligent horse racing discussion

Champion Chase Favourites Showcase Their Cheltenham Festival Credentials

Two of the main contenders to win the prestigious Champion Chase at the 2024 Cheltenham Festival showcased their big race credentials over the weekend.

Jonbon was the first horse to put his reputation on the line in the Tingle Creek Chase at Sandown and he claimed a gritty victory in extremely testing conditions.

Nicky Henderson’s seven-year-old produced an excellent round of jumping before showing his class on the run-in to defeat Edwardstone by two and three-quarter lengths.

Henderson admitted that he was concerned about the heavy ground and believes Jonbon will be seen to better effect when the weather improves.

“You have got to say it is always going to be tough in this ground and rightly we said (to jockey Nico de Boinville) ‘hang on to him as long as possible today as that is the sort of ground where you can get caught out’,” Henderson said.

“This is a horse that likes to attack it, but it was essential to keep his powder a bit dry today. It was the plan to just hold on to him a bit longer than you might do. He is an attacker and you can really let him rip, but that is dangerous in these conditions.

“He’s jumping very well this year, but there is no reason why. He was a novice last year and when he was here at the back-end of last season he was taking on the very old professional chasers.

“He’s grown up now and has to be a senior and he’s doing that well. The way he moves, he is still a better horse on better ground because a classy horse can cope with everything.”

Jonbon will now be aimed at either the Clarence House Chase at Ascot in January or the Game Spirit Chase at Newbury the following month.

His ultimate target is the two-mile Champion Chase at Cheltenham in March and a likely rematch with El Fabiolo – his conqueror in the Arkle Novices’ Chase at the meeting last season.

El Fabiolo kicked off his new campaign with a dominant display in the Bar One Racing Hilly Way Chase at Cork to continue trainer Willie Mullins’ excellent record in the race.

Mullins had saddled nine of the last 10 winners of the Hilly Way and enhanced his record as El Fabiolo toyed with his rivals before powering clear in the home straight.

Several of the top Irish sportsbooks featured at were suitably impressed, cutting the six-year-old into odds of 5/6 for the Champion Chase. Jonbon is a best-priced 11/4 with a handful of bookmakers.

Mullins suggested the horse could reappear in the Clarence House at Ascot, which may force Henderson into sending Jonbon to Newbury for the Game Spirit.

The result was a welcome one for Ireland’s top trainer, with several of his other horses failing to live up to expectations despite being well backed by punters.

“I was a little worried as I had five other runners today and none of them shone so I was thinking this could be one of those days, but he got the job done,” Mullins said.

“He was workmanlike and was very free with Paul (Townend) over the first three fences. He didn’t get too high (in jumping) and Paul was trying to not let his head go and didn’t want him running too free.

“He relaxed at the second fence down the back straight and was able to do things properly. If he needed a race, Jack Kennedy (on runner-up Fil Dor) was there to test him and he did.”