Last month’s news that Energumene, winner of the March Champion Chase for the past two seasons, had suffered an injury that is likely to rule him out for the season was a bitter disappointment at the start of the winter season but has subsided A vacancy at the top of the two-mile chase division and the race to fill it began here on Sunday when Jonbon took his first career win in the Shloer Chase at Cheltenham.
Few players could match Jonbon’s record of 0/2 against him here, as his two defeats came at the hands of exceptional rivals: Constitution Hill in the 2022 Supreme Novice Hurdle and El Fabiolo in last season’s Arkle Trophy.
Sent off 4-9 to beat his three rivals, including 2022 Arkle Trophy winner Edwardstone, he didn’t worry his supporters for a moment but also looked for room for improvement.
On the descent Edwardstone was still making good progress and briefly threatened to close in on Nicky Henderson’s gelding, but the favorite easily took a clear lead for Nico de Boinville as she rounded the home turn on the way to a nine-and-a-half length success.
Jonbon is now long odds of around 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 the second favorite for the Champion Chase in March at about 5-2, behind even-priced favorite El Fabiolo.
“You have to enjoy the moment when you get to ride horses like that,” said De Boinville. “I thought he was very smart, a real championship horse and he has every right to be at the top. He’s getting faster and saving a little for himself at the same time, which is great.
“He will deliver a lot for that. He wasn’t 100% fit, but he was close 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 when Iberico Lord made a dramatic run in the Greatwood Handicap Hurdle. Willie Mullins’ Onlyamatteroftime has previously been the center of attention in the betting after switching to the perennial Irish Champion stable since his elimination in a race in Cork in June.
After being pushed back 7-2 at the start, his wayward tendencies returned as he tried to get out of the way and then crashed through the guardrail on the approach to the fourth-to-last hurdle.
The horse and its rider, Danny Mullins, emerged unscathed from the incident and after escaping the melee, De Boinville steered Iberico Lord to a two-and-a-half length victory.
“We wanted to put together a team for this meeting,” Henderson said. “JP wanted to come back, so we got some troops together for the weekend, with (Friday winner) Impose Toi and those two, and it paid off.”