Sunday Times, December 9th.

Jonbon was the winner but attrition was the word. Sandown’s Tingle Creek Chase is famous for rocket pace and spring heeled jumping but in this heavy ground it was closer to tractor time. 

Jonbon is the most elegant of thoroughbreds, with a neat star on his forehead to match the white of the McManus silks’ cap. At Cheltenham last time he had been the picture of streamlined athleticism and looked that again as he looked all of that as he outjumped the bold leader Haddex Des Obeaux down the back straight. 

But it’s a long way home from the bottom of the Sandown hill and as Jonbon jumped slightly left at the Pond Fence three from home there were even hopes that Haddex Des Obeaux’s relentless enterprise could bring off a third win on the card for trainer Gary Moore. 

How weak of us to doubt him. “I was still travelling but I wanted to fill him up before tackling the last two,” said jockey Nico De Boinville, whose clipped tones, thinning hair and Norman conquest surname could delude you that he was a high-ranking executive rather than ice-cool jockey. “It was always going to be hard work but he won well enough.”

Last year’s Tingle Creek winner Edwardstone ran past an understandably tiring Haddex Des Obeaux to be a respectable second. Trainer Nicky Henderson’s previous victories have come with subsequent Champion Chase winners Sprinter Sacre and Altior and that event will now be Jonbon’s big target in March. 

Henderson had made the news earlier in the day when he withdrew both Constitution Hill and Shishkin from the rescheduled Fighting Fifth Hurdle because of Sandown’s rain sodden ground. Disappointing as it may have been it was hard to argue with Henderson’s reasoning that with both horses targeted for big events at Kempton on Boxing Day a hard slog yesterday would not have been sensible preparation.

But the expected stars absence opened the way to the 11 year-old Not So Sleepy whose career makes both of them look like callow aspirants. Yesterday was his 65th race (Constitution Hill and Shishkin have marshalled just 25 between them) and his 11 wins have included the Dee Stakes at Chester in 2015 and the Newcastle run Fighting Fifth in 2022.

The white-faced chestnut has run away in his races and also refused to start. He is the both the apple of owner breeder Lady Blyth’s eye and the ultimate challenge of trainer Hughie Morrison’s expertise. “You can’t take him to half the gallops as he will plant himself and not budge,” says Morrison. “He’s given me plenty of grey hairs over the years but days like this make racing such a great game.”

Meanwhile up at Aintree the ground was so heavy that even winning horses were struggling to jump the final obstacles but this did not stop Lucy Turner winning her first race over Grand National course and her first winner over fences for two seasons. 

Her victory in the Becher Chase was on an 11 year old slugger called Chambord on whom she was winning for the fifth time including at the 2022 Cheltenham Festival. “But this is the best day’s racing I have ever had,” she said in the muddy triumph of Aintree. 

It may have been quite that for De Boinville and Jonbon but they would not have had a worthier one. 

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