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Nicky Henderson described JONBON’s victory in Friday’s Grade 2 Kennel Gate Novices’ Hurdle at Ascot as ‘special’ after the five-year-old was eased by pilot Aidan Coleman to beat Irish raider Colonel Mustard by two-and-three-quarter lengths.
The Seven Barrows trainer has an almighty hand in the Festival’s opening race as he also tutors second favourite Constitution Hill and Jonbon’s scintillating performance saw him solidify at the front of the market.
Henderson knows exactly what it takes to land this prestigious event having scooped it on four occasions, including with the mighty Altior and Shishkin, so Jonbon could also be exceptional. He will have one more outing before the Supreme Novices Hurdle and it would be no surprise to see him rock up in another novice at Newbury where he won his bumper and broke his maiden over timber.
The UK team took a bit of a pummelling from the Irish at last season’s Festival, but it’ll take a good one from the Emerald Isle to lower Jonbon’s colours.
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The Champion Bumper has become a Willie Mullins/Gordon Elliott benefit in recent seasons with the two men having taken the last five renewals between them. After AMERICAN MIKE’s effortless 17-length demolition job in a Navan bumper for the latter on Saturday, it looks increasingly difficult for any other handler to wrestle this event away, and American Mike solidified at the front end of the market.
‘Mike’ is now unbeaten in three starts in a point-to-point and bumpers and while February’s Dublin Racing Festival was mooted as a possible next target, he also indicated that it’s more likely that he’ll go straight to Cheltenham 2022.
There’s plenty of time for others to throw their hat into the ring, but this guy currently sets a high standard.
PIC D’ORHY is a big price compared to the others listed above. Despite taking five outings until he scored over the bigger obstacles, he’s been pretty good since having a wind op a year ago.
Paul Nicholls’s former Betfair Hurdle winner comfortably won a novices’ handicap chase at Ffos Las in October before taking an unfortunate tumble at the scene of that Betfair victory when three-and-a-half lengths ahead in a Grade 2 novices’ chase last month.
That run was full of promise and he easily made amends when running out a nine-length winner of the Grade 2 Noel Novices’ Chase at Ascot last Friday.
He’s had a few jumping problems, but when the champion trainer labels one as ‘a proper, proper horse’, it pays to sit up and take notice. A word of caution for ante-post players though – Nicholls did say that he might bypass Prestbury Park in favour of the two-and-a-half mile race at Aintree.
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The appropriately named CHAMP produced a performance of David Fairclough proportions (apologies to anyone not old enough to remember Liverpool’s ‘super sub’) as he made up for Buzz’s injury-enforced absence in Saturday’s Long Walk Hurdle at Ascot when landing the Grade 1 contest for Nicky Henderson.
Buzz’s Friday morning setback had been a bitter blow for the champion trainer, but Champ put a smile back on his face after the nine-year-old put in a typically game effort to hold off Thyme Hill by a length-and-three-quarters.
What happened in this year’s Gold Cup with the winner is anybody’s guess as he made multiple mistakes before being pulled up before the seventh and the weekend’s race was meant as a confidence booster.
Champ may well now be the apple of Jonjo O’Neill Jr’s eye as while he gave the jockey his first top Grade One winner, he gives Henderson a bit of a headache as whether to go back over fences with him or go down the Paddy Power Stayers’ Hurdle route. There’s certainly no 10/1 left about him for the latter event now.
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