Nicky Henderson reports dual Grade One scorer Jonbon to be in ‘super form’ ahead of putting his unbeaten record over fences on the line in the Virgin Bet Kingmaker Novices’ Chase at Warwick on Saturday (11th February).
The JP McManus-owned seven year old will bid to give the Seven Barrows master his third victory in the Grade Two prize on his return to the scene of his debut win over fences back in November where he accounted for fellow Grade One scorer Monmiral by seven lengths.
While impressive on his first appearance over fences, Jonbon stepped forward again on his latest start at Sandown Park in December when putting in what Henderson described as a ‘silky smooth’ display in the Grade One Close Brothers Henry VIII Novices’ Chase.
Jonbon will now look to produce a similar display to enhance his position for as ante-post favourite for next month’s Sporting Life Arkle Novices’ Chase at The Cheltenham Festival, which he is the general 11-8 market leader for.
Henderson said: “I might put him in the Game Spirit at Newbury, but at the moment the plan remains to go to Warwick. That has been the plan all along. Everything has been great since Sandown and he is in super form.
“He schooled on Thursday and he has been great. Aidan (Coleman) will come and give him another pop over fences this week but he is having a good time.
“He just wants one more run before Cheltenham and this fits perfectly. He was silky smooth at Sandown the last day. He jumped, he galloped and he showed he has gears.”
One thing Henderson believes has helped Jonbon excel on his switch to fences this season is the fact he is a more settled character at home largely thanks to the relationship he has built up with his regular work rider Paddy Murphy.
He said: “He has settled down a lot. He was just a bit edgy and fidgety but Paddy, who rides him every day gets on really well with him.
“They go and do their own thing and join in with the rest of the string at the appointed moment. He starts somewhere else and joins in and he is very happy doing that.
“When Aidan came and schooled him on Thursday I didn’t let him start on him. He only gets on him just before they go and jump the fences.
“As soon as that is done he gets off him and Paddy gets back on him. He likes routine and that is why he has settled down so well.”
Looking beyond his next assignment Henderson believes the chief threat to Jonbon at The Festival will be the Willie Mullins-trained El Fabiolo, who ran out a clear-cut winner of the Goffs Irish Arkle Novices’ Chase at Leopardstown yesterday.
With only a neck separating the pair the last time they met in the Grade One Betway Top Novices’ Hurdle at Aintree in April, Henderson expects another close tussle when they meet again, however he believes Jonbon will prove up to the task.
Henderson said: “That was a good race in Ireland (Irish Arkle) and El Fabiolo was only a neck behind Jonbon at Aintree last season.
“That is good form in Ireland and the danger to Jonbon in the Arkle was always going to come out of that race and it certainly has. El Fabiolo has beaten three good horses there in Banbridge, Appreciate It, and Dysart Dynamo.
“We just want Jonbon to have a nice time at Warwick to put himself right for Cheltenham.
“There is a little bit of room for this race to come and put him where we want him for Cheltenham.”