A week after Ireland paraded its might at the Dublin Racing Festival and three days after home stables accounted for just a third of Grand National entries, British jumping was hoping for something to look forward to at Cheltenham next month at the Festival Trials both here and in Warwick on Saturday.
By the end of the afternoon, however, Jonbon, one of the few British-trained favorites for a Grade One at next month’s meeting, had been replaced as market leader for the Arkle Trophy after an unconvincing success at Warwick in performance 1-16. .
The two Grade Two events here, meanwhile, have both gone to relative outsiders, including Denman Chase winner Zanza, who is very much a course specialist. Greaneteen, among the elite of British two-mile chasers, was beaten 1-2 behind Funambule Sivola in the Game Spirit Chase and Aucunrisque’s one-length defeat of Filey Bay in the Betfair Hurdle was one of the few crumbs of comfort for The Britons are jumping ahead of next month’s showpiece meeting in the western country.
Chris Gordon’s seven-year-old had spent the first four months of the season racing over fences but was soon over shorter hurdles as Nick Schofield set out to make the run. Filey Bay, whose Irish trainer Emmet Mullins counts last year’s Grand National among his major race wins, moved smoothly into contention halfway down the home straight but the 4-1 favorite was clumsy in the second last and did not could ever succeed. to Aucunrisque, who still had a length advantage on the line.
“He’s a great, tough and consistent horse,” Gordon said. “It’s the property of the guv’nor [Julian Head], who sponsors half my yard, so I’ll probably take him to the bar and try to sell him another horse. He’s dropped it too many times.”
Zanza is such a confirmed course specialist that he will not enter Cheltenham next month, although his victory in the Denman Chase was notable for being the 3,000th success of Philip Hobbs’ 38-year training career.
Johnson White, Minehead’s long-term stable assistant, will be added to the stable in the coming months, but Hobbs himself has no plans to retire just yet.
“It’s amazing how this horse is so much better here than anywhere else,” Hobbs said. “I’ve never owned a horse to such an extent. He has only won one here, which was the Betfair Hurdle and was beaten only three lengths.
“The 3,000 came a little late in the last few weeks, but we’re finally getting there. It took us a long time to do it.”
Jonbon’s unbeaten record over fences remains intact after his third success of the campaign in the Grade Two Kingmaker Novice Chase at Warwick, but the long-odds favorite was left with just one opponent, Calico, to beat after two potential rivals failed out on Saturday morning, he was far from convincing in his five-and-a-half-length victory.
Calico made it three lengths clear of Jonbon to drop back and it was only after the last that Aidan Coleman’s mount finally put the race to bed.
El Fabiolo, a Grade One winner in Ireland last weekend, is the new favorite for the Arkle Trophy at 5-4 (from 7-4) while Jonbon is off 2-1 in place (from 11-8).
“I’ll look on the bright side,” said Nicky Henderson, Jonbon’s trainer, at Newbury. “Because he had such easy races, I think he was surprised when the other horse attacked him. It won’t hurt him as he didn’t have a [real] race from Aintree last year.”