26 April 2024

El Fabiolo back in ‘good place’ for latest Jonbon battle

26 April 2024

Willie Mullins believes El Fabiolo will need to “bring his A-game” if he is to put Cheltenham Festival disappointment behind him in the bet365 Celebration Chase at Sandown.

The seven-year-old was imperious in winning his first six starts over fences and was prohibitive odds to make it a magnificent seven in the Queen Mother Champion Chase at Prestbury Park last month.

However, the French recruit blotted his copybook for the first time since joining Mullins, almost crashing out after a juddering mistake at the fifth fence and he was swiftly pulled up by Paul Townend.

Mullins admits El Fabiolo “wasn’t himself” after returning to Ireland, but feels he is now back on-song ahead of what he considers a difficult test.

“It looks a tough enough race and he’ll have to bring his A-game,” he said.

“It took him a couple of weeks to get over Cheltenham, he just wasn’t himself, but his last few bits of work have been good and David Casey schooled him over four fences on Wednesday morning and said he was very good and very brave, so I’m happy he’s in a good place.”

Mullins does not expect El Fabiolo to have things all his own way in a £170,000 contest which could play a crucial part in deciding whether the Closutton handler is crowed British champion trainer.

His rivals include a familiar foe in Nicky Henderson’s Jonbon, who prior to the Champion Chase was the only horse to beat El Fabiolo since his arrival in Ireland, having got the better of him in a Grade One novice hurdle at Aintree two years ago, although the Mullins ace has since taken his revenge in last season’s Arkle at Cheltenham.

Mullins added: “It’s going to be a hell of a race, championship or no championship. Jonbon is on home ground and we’re playing an away game coming back from a run where we disappointed.

“Jonbon had a tough race in Aintree, so there’s pros and cons for both horses, so we’ll see.

“It’s going to be a tough and tactical race, I think.”

Jonbon has enjoyed a largely productive campaign, winning the Shloer Chase at Cheltenham, the Tingle Creek at Sandown and bouncing back from a shock defeat in a rearranged Clarence House Chase on Cheltenham Trials Day with victory in the Melling Chase at Aintree two weeks ago.

Henderson told Unibet: “The match we have been waiting for has finally arrived and we are all very much looking forward to it. We did the Aintree-Sandown double 12 months ago, but he did have an easier race at Aintree last year than this, so that has to be taken into consideration.

“Nico (de Boinville) felt that two and a half was about as far as he’d like to go at this stage, so the drop back in trip is an obvious plus and he’s been ticking along nicely at home. It is a fantastic race and I hope that we can come out on top!”

Alan King saddles stable stalwart Edwardstone, who was behind Jonbon on his first two starts of the season but later bounced back to winning ways with a 40-length romp in the Game Spirit at Newbury.

The 10-year-old fell two fences from home in the Champion Chase last month, but is reported to be in good form ahead of his latest big-race assignment.

King said: “It took him a wee bit of time to get over the fall, but he seems back in good order and I’m happy enough with him.

“It’s a cracking race, as it’s entitled to be. We’ll see what happens.”

Mullins’ title rival Dan Skelton is represented by Nube Negra, but while he is hopeful of a bold showing from his Celebration Chase runner, he has all but conceded the championship already.

“Nube Negra gets his chance to run on his ground,” Skelton told Racing TV.

“I know he’s a massive price and the two superstars (El Fabiolo and Jonbon) are turning up and everything else, but it’s just nice to be able to go down there and run those types of horses on the ground they like and in really valuable races.”

He added with a wry smile: “We’ll enjoy the day, we’ll applaud Willie and ask him to keep it clean next year!”

Editeur Du Gite (Gary Moore), Boothill (Harry Fry) and Elixir De Nutz (Joe Tizzard) complete the field.

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