Andy Gibson's Eyecatchers service: Is Jonbon a worthy short-priced favourite for the Arkle?

The busy festive racing card could see many Cheltenham candidates given an outing. Racing analyst Andy Gibson considers the merits of one strongly fancied to land the Arkle Chase in March.

Jonbon is currently trading around 5/4 for the Arkle Chase in March on the strength of his eight-length success over the 147-rated Boothill in the Henry VIII Novices' Chase at Sandown in early December.

His time comparisons with the Tingle Creek Chase horses over the same trip on the same card further enhance this success, and he put many lengths between himself and runner-up Greaneteen from the last to the line.

However, this might say more about how much the Paul Nicholls horse tired in the closing stages, so Jonbon's comparisons with Edwardstone might be more helpful.

He was a few lengths quicker from the water jump to the line and all this difference plus a bit more was earned from the last to the line, despite Edwardstone drawing clear of Greaneteen at this point of the race.

Of course, Jonbon enjoyed an untroubled lead and consequently had a much easier trip throughout compared with the Alan King-trained horse, but the fact that this was only his second try over fences adds something to his performance.

The overall time comparisons from the first fence to the winning line has Edwardstone just edging it over Jonbon, which shows how differently the two races were run.

Time comparisons are only one variable amongst many, of course, and should not be taken in isolation as proof of anything.

The 2021 Henry VIII winner Edwardstone was much quicker than the 2021 Tingle Creek winner Greaneteen and so fans of speed figures will no doubt point to the 2022 Tingle Creek outcome as proof of their power and reliability as a marker.

It is just as important to recognise that these comparisons are just as likely to fool us as guide us, and should be treated as just one piece of a larger puzzle.

After Jonbon's chasing debut success, it seemed likely that he would turn up at Cheltenham in March as a short-priced favourite for the Arkle, although this has much to do with the likelihood of him competing in small-field, uncompetitive chases like this Sandown race between now and March.

It is therefore important to remember how impressive he appeared in this Grade One success; at the same time, equal weight should be given to the relative weakness of this four-runner chase, plus the memory of him doing something similar in uncompetitive races over hurdles before his limitations were exposed in the spring of 2022.

Novice Hurdle Season

Jonbon was readily touted as a superstar in his novice hurdle season after two facile successes in uncompetitive contests. He was a short-priced favourite in both races and barely came out of a canter either time, so it was more interesting when he showed a glimpse of the ceiling of his ability in a more competitive contest next time out at Haydock in January 2022.

Although he ultimately proved to be three lengths too good for the 132-rated Richmond Lake in the Grade Two Rossington Main Novices' Hurdle, his winning effort could be described as more workmanlike than scintillating.

In his next start Jonbon was runner-up a full 22 lengths behind his stable mate Constitution Hill in the Supreme Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival.

If the current Champion Hurdle favourite does something similar to Honeysuckle et al in March, then this might shine a different light on the quality of Jonbon's distant second place finish in the Supreme.

At this point in time, however, that heavy defeat points to Jonbon being, at best, extremely good over hurdles rather than brilliant.

On his final start in his novice hurdle campaign, Jonbon narrowly overcame the lightly raced and much less experienced El Fabiolo at Aintree in April.

Post-race his trainer suggested that "he will get further". In fact, he emphasised this point by stating "We had him in the two-and-a-half-mile race here and at Cheltenham and he will get that trip easily".

We often hear it said that an Arkle winner needs to stay the trip well, so Nicky Henderson's thoughts might not be a negative.

However, even the possibility that he could be a better horse over an intermediate trip is something to consider when discussing the claims of a horse trading at 5/4 for a race three months away. If the ground is on the quick side in March this information might be even more significant.

Where next for Jonbon?

Nicky Henderson has trained two superstars to win the Arkle in recent years. Both horses had proved to be at the top of the pile in their respective novice hurdle seasons, unlike Jonbon who was a long way behind Constitution Hill.

Altior and Shishkin were both asked to compete in the Grade Two Wayward Lad Novices' Chase at Kempton the day after Boxing Day. Nicky Henderson is a creature of habit so one can see little reason why this will not be on his mind for Jonbon, providing he has recovered from his exertions at Sandown.

After Kempton, Altior competed against more experienced rivals in the Grade Two Game Spirit Chase. However, by February of his novice chase season, it was pretty clear that Altior was something special and in front of all of the other two-mile chasers of the time, but this is clearly not the case with Jonbon.

Shishkin ran in the Grade Two Lightning Novices' Chase at Doncaster at the end of January following his winning effort in the Wayward Lad.

This would seem to be the more likely path for Jonbon at this stage of proceedings. Consequently, on the run-up to March Jonbon is likely to face two small-field races and competing against British-trained horses rated below his level.

On past evidence he is very likely to win both contests and look impressive in doing so, making it very likely that Jonbon will remain strong in the ante-post markets for the Arkle Chase.

What about the Irish challengers?

The real test will not come for Jonbon until he faces the Irish challengers in March. The next three in the Arkle betting after Jonbon are all Irish-trained and include El Fabiolo, who finished next to him at Aintree.

If El Fabiolo takes to chasing over the festive period, one would be hard pushed to know which of those two Aintree horses would come out on top on another day.

Likewise with the other two horses currently trading in the first four for the Arkle - Sir Gerhard and Appreciate It were both Grade One novice hurdle winners at the Cheltenham Festival, which is more than Jonbon achieved.

All three of those Irish horses are trained by Willie Mullins and, whilst one of them may fall by the wayside in the coming weeks, it would be hard to imagine that at least one, and maybe two of them will not progress over fences.

They all have entries in the same races on Boxing Day so we could easily see a bit of a shake up in the Arkle markets by the time Jonbon has competed in the Wayward Lad on December 27th.

Whatever we think about Jonbon's chances for the Arkle Novices' Chase, it would appear that now is not the time to be getting financially involved.

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