Richard Johnson backs Jonbon to avenge Arkle defeat as he prepares to renew rivalry with El Fabiolo at Ascot this weekend
Four-time champion jockey Richard Johnson thinks Ascot will suit Jonbon as he prepares to renew his rivalry with El Fabiolo in the Clarence House Chase on Saturday.
The Nicky Henderson-trained Walk in the Park gelding won the Shloer Chase in November and the Tingle Creek last month and is set to take on Willie Mullins’ El Fabiolo – the last horse to defeat him, beating him by five-and-a-half-lengths in the Arkle – this weekend.
The expectation had been that two wouldn’t do battle until the Queen Mother Champion Chase at March’s Cheltenham Festival but both Henderson, a six-time champion jumps trainer, and Mullins appear to have held their nerve ahead of the Grade 1 Clarence House this weekend.
The pair – currently the best two mile chasers in training – seem to have scared off most of the potential competition, with Joe Tizzard’s Elixir De Nutz and Dan Skelton’s Unexpected Party making up a reduced field of four.
Despite being beaten at Cheltenham last year, Jonbon got the better of his rival over hurdles at Aintree in April 2022 and Johnson, speaking to The Winners Enclosure, feels the eight-year-old could be well-placed to regain the advantage when the pair meet for a third time.
“In the past, the top two mile chasers used to take each other on three or four times a year and it was always a very competitive group,” he said.
“Jonbon is the best of the British. I was impressed with him at Sandown [when winning the Tingle creek]. He has grown up a little bit and I think a Championship race is better for him because he is a horse that stays really well. Sometimes if you have a crawl at 8/1 on you won’t get the best out of him.
“Cheltenham will bring the best out of him in March but it would be good for him to have a proper contender.
“Willie’s [Mullins] horse was very impressive at Cheltenham. Until they actually run against each other in Ireland or England, it is very hard to gauge the real class of a race until you see two or three good horses running against each other. That is when you really get the feel for it. The Clarence House has always been a great race for the Champion Chase horses coming through.
“Ascot will suit Jonbon, that stiff test. He is a horse who a true run race will bring the best out of him on a galloping track. I will definitely be on the British side but it will be a very close run race.”