Melling Chase (Grade 1)

FOR a horse who had won five Grade 1 races over jumps already, it seems odd to say that Jonbon (Nicky Henderson/Nico de Boinville) had a bit to prove, but defeat in the Clarence House Chase prior to a defection from the Champion Chase did leave a gap in his CV.

However, trying two and a half miles for the first time, he produced the performance of his life to win the Grade 1 Melling Chase with a display of brilliance and character.

Three had a chance at the final fence, with the 11/10 favourite flanked by the rallying Conflated (Gordon Elliott/Jack Kennedy) on his inside and Ryanair winner Protektorat (Dan/Harry Skelton) on his outer, and any chink in his resolution was there to be exploited, but the eight-year-old dug deep to fend off the strong stayers, beating Conflated and Protektorat by a length and a quarter and the same.

Nico de Boinville was always looking confident on Jonbon, who jumped and travelled much better than in the Clarence House, and he produced his mount to lead going best between the last two fences before having to show his stamina and resolution on the run in.

The runner-up ran a mighty race from the front, and in leading he seemed to take 2023 winner Pic d’Orhy out of his comfort zone, that horse fading tamely in the closing stages. Protektorat cut every corner but found Conflated impossible to pass on the inner, forcing Harry Skelton to check wide, and he ran well in the circumstances. Jonbon was one of three Grade 1 winners on Friday for J.P. McManus.

“I don’t know why,” said a beaming Nicky Henderson. “But everybody loves him, I know J.P. does as well. He dug very deep today didn’t he? And he had to. His jumping was very slick and it was a great ride – you saw him at his best today.

“I always wondered whether we should have been thinking about the Ryanair this year and when we stepped Shishkin up to two and a half we soon realised he actually wanted three. I’m not saying that about Jonbon at the moment as Nico thought that trip was perfect for him around here.”

Referring to his withdrawal of so many intended runners at Cheltenham, Henderson said: “We’ll never know whether missing Cheltenham has helped us with the horses coming here, you could say it’s possibly in our favour. The other horses have been to Prestbury Park and we were sadly stuck in our box at home with all of them.”

Kim Muir winner graduates up into top company

Mildmay Novices’ Chase (Grade 1)

THE Grade 1 Huyton Asphalt Franny Blennerhassett Memorial Mildmay Novices’ Chase gave J.P. McManus’ impressive Kim Muir winner Inothewayurthinkin (Gavin Cromwell/Mark Walsh) a chance to prove the style of that success was backed up by substance and, despite being the first off the bridle, he eventually did so in impressive style, looking better the further he went in a four-length win over the same owner’s Iroko (Oliver Greenall and Josh Guerriero/Jonjo O’Neill Jr).

Broadway Boy and Chianti Classico went on immediately and the pair set a decent tempo, which quickened in the back straight on the second circuit where the front runners took each other on. That made the race a test of both jumping and stamina, and while Inothewayurthinkin was tapped for speed turning for home, and made an error at the third last, he came to life when the chips were down.

Heart Wood travelled best on the run to two out, but the long run between the last two fences saw Inothewayurthinkin devour the ground and move from last to first with a victory already assured bar a last-fence mistake. Iroko stayed on better than Heart Wood (Henry de Bromhead/Rachael Blackmore) for minor honours, but the winner - sent off favourite at 6/4 - was decisive in the end.

Cromwell said: “His jumping definitely left a bit to be desired, but he clearly has a big engine. He looked to have done plenty wrong, but still won. Clearly he stays well, so we’re delighted with the result.”

Supreme form to the fore once more

Top Novices Hurdle (Grade 1)

MYSTICAL Power (Willie Mullins/Mark Walsh) and Firefox (Gordon Elliott/Jack Kennedy) – second and third behind Slade Steel in the Supreme Novices’ at Cheltenham - served up a grandstand finish to the Grade 1 TrustATrader Top Novices’ Hurdle, with the former holding the renewed challenge of Firefox to prevail by half a length, with the pair almost 10 lengths clear of the front-running Lookaway (Neil King/Jack Quinlan) in third.

Walsh was happy to settle in the pack through the early stages as Lookaway set a searching gallop, but he travelled ominously well and although Firefox led at the penultimate flight, his move was swiftly covered. In fairness to Firefox, he battled back resolutely when headed and the winner had to pull out the stops to hold on.

Remarkably, this is the sixth time one of the owner’s horses has won the Top Novices’ having finished runner-up in the Supreme after Joe Mac, Straw Bear, Darlan, My Tent Or Yours and Jonbon, while Buveur d’Air and Inthepocket won this after finishing third and fourth respectively in the Supreme.

‘Top class mare’

“I’m delighted to win a Grade 1 with him,” Mullins said of the son of top-class racemare Annie Power. “Rich has a share in him because he owned the mare, obviously, so it means a lot. For the mare herself to have a Grade 1 winner is special.

“We started off low with him, he won a bumper at Ballinrobe so he obviously keeps a lot for himself for the racetrack. We just get him fit and let him do his own thing.

“We’ll have a think about Punchestown but he doesn’t owe us anything this year, we’ll see how he comes out of it. I was particularly taken with how he hurdled today, he barely came off the ground, like a real professional hurdler, and that’s what he looks like.”

Donnellys dancing for joy

Sefton Novices’ Hurdle (Grade 1)

THE Grade 1 Sefton Novices’ Hurdle proved a real test of stamina with Kyntara and Albert Bartlett runner-up The Jukebox Man having a battle for the lead which continued to the penultimate flight and made the race a battle of attrition.

That didn’t help the strong-travelling favourite but did help Dancing City (Willie Mullins/Paul Townend) who found a bit extra to wear down The Jukebox Man (Ben Pauling/Kielan Woods) from the last and grind out a five-and-a-half-length win, with Cherie d’Am (Dan/Harry Skelton) plugging on for a modest third, 13 lengths adrift of the winner.

Dancing City, only third when The Jukebox Man was second at Cheltenham but a Grade 1 winner at the Dublin Racing Festival, was returned at 4/1.

The winner is owned by Joe and Marie Donnelly, continuing the theme at this meeting which has so far been dominated by the leading owners.