Crunch time looms for Jonbon at Haydock

Horse Racing

Supreme Novices’ candidate first leg of huge double on big day for Seven Barrows.

Nicky Henderson admits only victory will suffice for Jonbon as he prepares to put his unbeaten record and huge reputation on the line at Haydock on Saturday.

On the same afternoon his illustrious stablemate Shishkin locks horns with Energumene in a much-anticipated clash at Ascot, Jonbon will be in action some 200 miles north on Merseyside.

Henderson is well aware of the magnitude of the day for all at Seven Barrows, as he unleashes not only the stable’s biggest star but also one of its most exciting prospects.

He said: “This weekend is big. Really big. Because it is Jonbon and Shishkin. You relish the pressure because you are lucky enough to have horses like this – it is fascinating.

Nicky Henderson faces a huge afternoon
Nicky Henderson faces a huge afternoon (Steven Paston/PA)

“We are in good shape and it is going to be very interesting. They are very important days in each of the horse’s lives.”

Jonbon’s ultimate aim this season will be to follow in Shishkin’s considerable hoofprints by lifting the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham in March.

But first the GBP 570,000 purchase must cement his claims for the Festival curtain raiser by adding to his previous wins at Newbury and Ascot in the Sky Bet Supreme Trial Rossington Main Novices’ Hurdle.

“Jonbon has got to continue on his upward curve and can’t really afford not to – he really has to do it,” Henderson continued.

“He did his last piece of work on Saturday and has just ticked over since.

“Jonbon isn’t a horse you want to wind up too much – that’s why I want the run now and I have plenty of time to just let him off for a bit and bring him back.”

A decade on from saddling subsequent Supreme winner Cinders And Ashes to claim this Grade Two prize, Donald McCain is represented by Richmond Lake.

The Westerner gelding, who carries the colours of the late Trevor Hemmings, steps up in class following a 27-length demolition job at Sedgefield.

“We’re going to take a punt and see where we are,” said McCain.

“We have a few nice novices and with one or two of the others you’d just question the ground a bit and they’re a little bit more immature.

“The Henderson horse is turning up and he probably shouldn’t be beaten, but there’s no point making it too easy for them!”

Other hopefuls include Nick Alexander’s unbeaten youngster Donny Boy and the Harry Fry-trained Might I, who was last seen chasing home Jonbon’s stablemate and fellow star novice Constitution Hill at Sandown.

Tommy’s Oscar is the star attraction in the New One Unibet Hurdle.

A hat-trick of handicap wins have seen the seven-year-old’s rating rise from 138 to 156 and he will be the hot favourite to add to his tally in this recognised Champion Hurdle trial for Ann Hamilton.

Tommy's Oscar is enjoying an excellent season
Tommy’s Oscar is enjoying an excellent season (Simon Marper/PA)

Owner Ian Hamilton, the trainer’s husband, said: “We’ll find out on Saturday if he’s good enough to go down the road (to Cheltenham)!

“He’s been fine since Musselburgh. The ground could be hard work, but it’s the same for them all.

“He’s got to go and win to go to Cheltenham. It (Cheltenham) is an undulating track and he likes a flat track, I think, but I suppose we’ve got to go if he wins.”

Tommy’s Oscar’s rivals include Olly Murphy’s veteran Hunters Call, who was a close third in last month’s International Hurdle at Cheltenham, and McCain’s defending champion Navajo Pass.

Murphy said of Hunters Call: “He’s in good form and we’re looking forward to running him.

“For a 12-year-old to be 5-2 for a Champion Hurdle trial doesn’t seem quite right, but he’s been in good form since Cheltenham and I’d like to think he’ll go very close.”

Navajo Pass has finished well-beaten in two starts at Sandown so far this season and his trainer is hoping a return to Merseyside can help him to bounce back to form.

“To be honest we were going to step up in trip, but this race needed supporting, there’s not a massive field and it’s very hard to avoid it when you’re last year’s winner,” said McCain.

“It’s not really happened for him so far this year. I don’t know if he’s really loved that ground up the straight at Sandown.

“I know Haydock will be slow ground, but it won’t be quite like Sandown, so we’ll see how we go.”

Minella Drama leads the way at Uttoxeter
Minella Drama leads the way at Uttoxeter (Tim Goode/PA)

The Cholmondeley handler has high hopes of winning the first of four Grade Two prizes on the card, with Minella Drama expected to go well in the curtain-raising Patrick Coyne Memorial Altcar Novices’ Chase.

The son of Flemensfirth steps up in trip after finishing fifth in the Grade One Henry VIII Novices’ Chase at Sandown over two miles on his latest outing.

McCain added: “On nice ground he definitely wants two and a half. On this ground, we’ll find out.

“We’ve been waiting for the race. We know it’s there every year and it’s an obvious race to aim for with a horse like him.

“I think Sandown proved he’s not a true two-mile chaser. I thought they wouldn’t go that quick, but Dan Skelton’s horse (Third Time Lucki) got revved up and it turned into a different type of race.

“We were just out of our comfort zone for long enough so that although he was staying on, he ran out of gas in the last 100 yards. We’ll go to Haydock and see where we are.”

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