More to come from Tingle Creek winner Jonbon as renewal of El Fabiolo rivalry could arrive sooner than expected
Six-time champion jumps trainer Nicky Henderson says there's more to come from Jonbon after the seven-year-old cruised to victory in the Grade 1 Tingle Creek Chase at Sandown.
Setting off as 30/100 favourite in a field of just four, Jonbon coped well with the slow ground and was in control approaching the second last fence before showing a good turn of foot to finish two-and-three-quarter-lengths clear of Alan King's Edwardstone and land his fifth Grade 1 in 14 career starts.
Jonbon's only defeats to date have come at The Cheltenham Festival, most recently when he was beaten by the Willie Mullins-trained El Fabiolo in the Arkle in March. The pair had been expected to meet again at next year's Festival in the Champion Chase, although both Henderson and Mullins admitted the hotly-anticipated rematch could come sooner than expected, with both trainers considering a tilt at the Clarence House Chase at Ascot in January.
And Henderson said he saw enough from Jonbon's showing on Saturday to suggest he can close the five-and-a-half length gap that separated the two rivals when they last met.
"I thought he was really good actually," he said.
"The conditions were foul. It was brutal. I'm sure he'd have liked better weather but he coped with it well enough.
"He's travelled well and he's come back fresh and well.
"It'll be interesting because it looks as if the clash could come sooner rather than later. Willie said he's thinking about the Clarence House now, which is where we were thinking of going. The Clarence House and the Game Spirit at Newbury are our two options, so we will have to see what we think.
"I think there's probably more to come from both horses, I don't think we've seen the best of either of them.
"It's going to be very interesting whenever it happens but I think if they're both at the top of their game, we could see something different."
Meanwhile, Henderson opted not to run either Shishkin or Constitution Hill in the rearranged Fighting Fifth Hurdle, with torrential rain meaning the meeting only just passed a morning inspection.
The Lambourn handler admitted he's a little concerned that Shishkin is set to head to the King George VI Chase at Kempton Park on Boxing Day without a prep run after the mercurial nine-year-old refused to run at his planned seasonal reappearance at Ascot last month.
However, the 73-year-old harbours no such concerns for the undefeated Constitution Hill, who will begin his campaign – which Henderson hopes will conclude with a second successive Champion Hurdle title – at the Christmas Hurdle in two weeks time.
He said: "Yes, it is a bit of a concern. I've said all along that I don't believe a horse can win a King George without a prep race.
"It's too close now – even if there was a race tomorrow we wouldn't want to run him in it.
"Consequently, he'll be having a couple of away days and a gallop elsewhere. It's a tough thing to do, but where else can we go?
"He'll be fit, don't worry. He already is very fit. He's a bit more amenable when he's had a run. He can be a bit stroppy until then, but once you give him a run it takes it out of him and he stops mucking about. We'll have to see what happens, but he'll definitely run.
"As for Constitution Hill, it doesn't matter. He's got a wonderful temperament and he's fit, we're looking forward to seeing him."
After enduring a difficult time with his novice hurdlers last season, Henderson admitted his current crop is one of the best he's had for some time.
Jeriko Du Reponet, who laid down a marker on debut at Newbury two weeks ago, has hit the headlines after his odds for The Cheltenham Festival's Supreme Novices Hurdle were slashed to as short as 4/1.
The legendary Lambourn handler had done his best to dampen the considerable enthusiasm surrounding the recently acquired four-year-old, whose only race prior to his Newbury outing was an 11-length point-to-point victory in Kirkistown. Henderson suggested in the lead-up that he had 10 other horses who worked as well as him at home and that his odds for the Supreme, which even before his debut for his new yard were as short as 12/1, were “absolutely stark raving ridiculous”.
However, the much-talked-about gelding lived up to his big billing as he required almost no encouragement from jockey Nico de Boinville when winning by three-and-a-quarter lengths in West Berkshire, leaving Henderson thrilled with his new star's start to life at Seven Barrows.
"Visually it was very impressive, but I'm not sure he beat very much," he said.
"We've used that novice hurdle time and time again and it worked again for us, thank goodness.
"Nico was at pains to try and teach him as much as possible and he came through quite a narrow gap going to the last which is good education for him. Then he picked up the bridle and disappeared, which was what we wanted him to do.
"To be totally honest, I don't think he beat anything on the day. I'd have been mortified if he couldn't beat that lot.
"It was a bit tongue in cheek when I said there were 10 as good as him, but they are a good bunch.
"He's a beautiful horse, he's an absolute cracker and he has the engine to go with it, but I hope there aren't too many people backing him at 4/1 for the Supreme. He's got a long way to go to even get there."
Another of Henderson's extremely smart novice hurdlers who got off the mark at Newbury was Jingko Blue, who opened his account at the second time of asking after edging a thrilling battle with fellow joint-favourite Masaccio, who was carrying a weight penalty, by a nose. Second on his debut at Warwick, the Great Pretender gelding showed real character to battle back after his rival had passed him following the final hurdle.
And Henderson said he was pleased with how the four-year-old came through after a stern examination by Alan King's runner-up.
He said: "He improved from his first run, it was a good performance.
"The runner-up is good, I know he is because I was chatting to Alan King the night before.
"I hope he's a smart horse and he certainly looks like one."