Jonbon gives JP McManus another shot at filling one glaring gap in Cheltenham festival CV

McManus team ‘leaning a little bit’ towards Brown Advisory option for Fact Or File at Cheltenham

Jonbon could earn a singular place in JP McManus’s affections if he manages to fill the one glaring gap in the Irish owner’s Cheltenham festival CV in just over three weeks.

A total of 73 festival winners makes McManus the most successful owner in Cheltenham history.

Among those are a record nine victories in the Champion Hurdle and the home-bred Synchronised secured a famous Gold Cup success a dozen years ago.

However, the third leg of Cheltenham’s unofficial “Triple Crown”,’ the Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase, has remained stubbornly elusive over the years.


It looked particularly ripe for plucking in 2020 only for Defi Du Seuil, who started a 2-5 favourite, to fluff his lines and finish only fourth to Politologue.

This time, McManus’s famous green and gold silks, are set to be carried by Jonbon, the brother to Douvan who famously blew out in the 2017 Champion Chase as a 2-9 favourite.

He will clash again with old rival El Fabiolo who is an odds-on favourite after an impressive victory at the Dublin Racing Festival earlier this month.

In contrast, Jonbon’s credentials took a hammering when his jumping fell apart and he failed to beat Elixir Du Nutz in the rescheduled Clarence House Chase at Cheltenham last month.

The Nicky Henderson-trained star was pushed out to 7-2 second favourite as a result but he can still boast a one-from-one record against El Fabiolo having beaten him over hurdles at Aintree in 2022. El Fabiolo got the better of the argument in last year’s Arkle.

Failure to land the two-mile championship mightn’t keep McManus awake at night. Nevertheless, the billionaire businessman is famously fond of festival success and completing the Cheltenham set might ensure Jonbon a particularly comfortable future retirement slot at the owner’s Martinstown Stud.

“A lot of things keep him awake at night, but that wouldn’t be one of them!” joked McManus’s racing manager Frank Berry on Sunday.

“It would be nice to win it, no doubt. But we haven’t gone there with horses with strong credentials over the years. We got a few placed ones. But this fellah has it all to do to beat Willie’s. But Nicky thinks he’s come back in good form, and he’ll be thereabouts with a bit of luck,” he added.

Sire Du Berlais sprang a 33-1 shock for the McManus team in last year’s Stayers Hurdle, a fourth success in the race for them after More Of That (2014) and Baracouda scoring in both 2002 and 2003. Uxizandre won the other day-three festival feature, the Ryanair Chase, in 2015.

Sire Du Berlais was one of four McManus winners in 2023 that gave him another leading owner award, although it was short of a remarkable 2020 haul of seven. The first of his festival winners was Mister Donovan in the 1982 Sun Alliance Hurdle.

Among the perennial champion owner’s top hopes this time look to be the novice chasers Fact To File and Corbetts Cross while Grade One winning mare Dinoblue is an evens favourite for the Paddy Power Mares’ Chase.

Berry confirmed Corbetts Cross will tackle the marathon National Hunt Chase and the three-mile Brown Advisory might be a target for Fact Or File rather than the shorter Turners option.

“It’s a bit up in the air but possibly leaning a little bit to the three-mile, but it’s not set in stone,” he said.

The odds about Capodanno getting supplemented into the Gold Cup are high despite his Cotswold Chase victory at the course last month. The Ryanair is his sole festival entry and Berry added: “I’d say he will stick with the entry he has and head for the Ryanair. I’d say that’s where he’ll go.”

El Fabiolo is the obvious standard bearer for the Double Green ownership team of Simon Munir and Isaac Souede, the only owners apart from McManus to win more than one race at last year’s festival.

One of their festival entries this time is Brucio who sprang a 20-1 shock in the Listed Mares contest at the Dublin Racing Festival.

Rather than head for Cheltenham, however, Co Antrim-trainer Stuart Crawford is eyeing a pre-festival tilt at Kelso’s valuable Morebattle Hurdle at the start of next month.

“There will be plenty of focus obviously on Cheltenham, but I will have no problem at all collecting a bit of prize money at Kelso. That would suit me all right,” said Crawford.

“I think we will definitely be keeping an eye on Kelso and it will probably be a more valuable race than what she would be going in at Cheltenham. How well is she going to be treated by the handicapper? That is hard to say, and she will take a hefty rise for what she did at Leopardstown. But, hopefully, she can still be competitive in a big handicap like that,” he added.

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Brian O'Connor

Brian O'Connor

Brian O'Connor is the racing correspondent of The Irish Times. He also writes the Tipping Point column