Jonbon might have been the 1-16 favourite in this afternoon’s Virgin Bet Kingmaker Novices’ Chase at Warwick but he was made to work hard for his victory over his only rival in the Grade Two contest.
The seven year old went in to the race unbeaten in two attempts over fences and having only ever been defeated once in nine starts, by his stablemate Constitution Hill in the SkyBet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at last year’s Cheltenham Festival.
At the start of the day the Nicky Henderson-trained Jonbon was a general 11-8 favourite for the Sporting Life Arkle Novices’ Chase at next month’s Festival, but after today’s five and a half length victory over 9-1 chance Calico - which his own jockey described as “rusty” - bookmakers eased the seven year old out to 2-1.
Calico led down the back straight and pressured Jonbon’s rider Aidan Coleman to force the issue, eventually getting his head in front two fences from home and staying there to secure victory.
Afterwards Coleman admitted: “It’s a prep run and we knew he had plenty to work on. I schooled him the other morning and he schooled very well but he was very fresh. He jumped super again there and I was quite comfortable going to that fence there (down the back straight).
“I was going a good gallop and wasn’t really wanting to press along too much bearing in mind it’s a trial. Harry set his alight and winged it and although I didn’t make a mistake Calico got going and I was kind of just chasing from there.
“I was always quite confident from three quarters of a mile out. I met the next three fences spot on and then put it to bed well. He was a bit rusty but he won it nicely so I’m happy with that.”
Coleman, who hopes Jonbon can become the fifth Cheltenham Festival winner of his career and his first since Put The Kettle On in the 2021 Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase, was asked about Jonbon jumping right during today’s race and added: “He only did it once and it happens a lot at that fence in front of the stands as they’re coming into it on a bend.
“It probably looked a bit worse than it was but he’s a very clever and accurate jumper. It’s the exact same thing (as Haydock last year) in that we’re coming here with stuff to work on.
“He’s not been trained for this in particular - he was ready to go and we were really sweet on him, but at the same time it is a trial for the Arkle and that’s why we’re here. It was the exact same when we were warming up for Cheltenham at Haydock Park last year. He’s fine in that ground though and we’re very happy with him.”
Trainer Henderson, who hopes Jonbon can help him increase his current Cheltenham Festival winners tally of 72, was not at Warwick to see the defeat but legendary ex-jockey Sir AP McCoy, speaking on behalf of owner JP McManus, said: “It was good and it was nice that he won.
“They’re all contenders in the race and we’ll have to see. He’s trained by a man who knows more about training horses like that than I do. He was happy with him and you’d imagine he’s looking for March and not today. I’d say he was just ready to have a run and looked rusty, that’s all. The Arkle is in March and not today.
“Nicky is good at training horses like that. He’s not going to win the Arkle watching that is he? But that isn’t the Arkle. I wasn’t worried watching it and he actually won quite well in the end. He’ll have learned a little bit from that today.
“The Arkle is going to be different and he needs to be sharper but we’ll let the trainer do his thing. I’d be more inclined to think about his runs earlier on in the year (in relation to the Arkle) than I would be today’s run. March is what he’s being trained for.”