Last month’s news that Energumene, the winner of the Champion Chase in March for the past two seasons, had sustained an injury that is likely to rule him out for the season was a bitter disappointment at the start of the winter campaign, but it has left a vacancy at the top of the two-mile chasing division and the race to fill it started on Sunday, as Jonbon registered his first career win at Cheltenham in the Shloer Chase.
Few punters were holding Jonbon’s 0 from 2 record here against him, as his two defeats had been inflicted by exceptional rivals: Constitution Hill, in the 2022 Supreme Novice Hurdle, and El Fabiolo, in last season’s Arkle Trophy.
He was sent off at 4-9 to beat his three rivals, including Edwardstone, the 2022 Arkle Trophy winner, and did not give his backers a moment’s concern, while also looking to have room for improvement.
On the run down the hill, Edwardstone was still travelling well and briefly threatened to close on Nicky Henderson’s gelding, but the favourite effortlessly moved into a clear lead for Nico de Boinville as they rounded the home turn on the way to a nine-and-a-half-length success.
Jonbon is now long odds-on at about 1-4 for the Grade One Tingle Creek Chase at Sandown Park next month, when Aidan Coleman, his regular rider, will hope to be back in the saddle after a knee injury in June. He was also cut to about 5-2 second favourite for the Champion Chase in March, behind the even-money favourite, El Fabiolo.
“You have to enjoy the moment when you get to ride horses like this,” De Boinville said. “I thought he was very smart, a true championship horse, and he has every right to be dining at the top table. He quickens up and saves a bit for himself at the same time, so that’s great.
“He’ll come on loads for that. He wasn’t 100% fit but he was near enough and that was a great starting point for the season.”
Henderson, De Boinville and Jonbon’s owner, JP McManus, completed a lucrative double 35 minutes later as Iberico Lord landed a dramatic running of the Greatwood Handicap Hurdle.Willie Mullins’s Onlyamatteroftime was the focus of attention in the betting beforehand, having switched to the perennial Irish champion’s stable since running out in a race at Cork in June.
Having been backed down to start at 7-2, however, his wayward tendencies returned as he tried to duck out and then crashed through the guard rail on the approach to the fourth-last hurdle.
The horse and his rider, Danny Mullins, emerged from the incident unscathed, and having avoided the melee, De Boinville steered Iberico Lord to a two-and-a-half-length success.
“We wanted to get a team assembled for this meeting,” Henderson said. “JP was coming back for it, so we gathered a few of the troops together for the weekend, with [Friday’s winner] Impose Toi and these two, and it has paid off.”
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