Cheltenham is the spiritual home of jump racing but the two-mile chase course here has a special place in the heart of many National Hunt fans and a big pre-Christmas crowd was treated to two memorable performances in the Grade One events on Saturday.
Jonbon, the favourite for the Arkle Trophy at Cheltenham in March, set a high bar with a dominant success in the Henry VIII Novice Chase, but an hour later, Edwardstone emerged from the late-afternoon gloom and cleared it with something to spare in the Tingle Creek Chase.
The focus in the run-up to the Tingle Creek was on a potential head-to-head between Greaneteen, who was Paul Nicholls’s 12th winner of the race last year, and Shishkin, the 6-5 favourite, who lost his unbeaten record over fences when odds-on for last season’s Champion Chase at Cheltenham.
Edwardstone, who took the Arkle Trophy at Cheltenham in March, was racing outside novice company for the first time and somewhat overlooked in the betting at 5-1. He rose to the challenge magnificently, however: foot-perfect at the long line of obstacles down the back except for a slight error at the first Railway fence, before taking the measure of Greaneteen after the second-last as Shishkin started to fade.
This was Edwardstone’s first start since early April and he is sure to improve further, so it was no surprise to see him replace Shishkin as second-favourite for the Queen Mother Champion Chase in March, at a best price of around 7-2 behind Energumene, last year’s winner, at 7-4.
11.35 Dunnet Head 12.05 Cedar Hill 12.35 Domandlouis (nb) 1.05 Donna's Delight 1.35 Git Maker 2.05 Aubis Walk 2.40 Faithfulflyer 3.15 Mr Globalist
12.15 Spirit D'Aunou 12.45 Hardy Boy 1.15 School Days Over 1.45 Art Of Illusion 2.20 Impulsive One 2.55 Do Your Job (nap) 3.25 Queens Gamble
Edwardstone was a late scratch from races at Cheltenham and Ascot last month as Alan King had concerns about the ground. The trainer addressed criticism that he had been too cautious with his stable star in the winner’s enclosure afterwards.
“He is a big, heavy horse and that is why we couldn’t risk him earlier in the season,” King said. “He has exceeded my expectations. It is one of the most emotional wins I’ve had, just because of the flak that we have been through. I might be tough but I don’t like it.”
A step up in trip now seems likely for Shishkin, who was already struggling before a mistake three out effectively ended his race.
“It was fairly obvious from halfway down the back straight he was going as fast as his legs could carry him,” Nicky Henderson, Shishkin’s trainer, said. “His next run will be over a lot further than that. I’m not going to rule anything in or out.”
Henderson had much more to celebrate after Jonbon’s run earlier on the card, as the six-year-old was flawless on the way to an eight-length success in the Henry VIII Novice Chase. He remains a clear favourite for the Arkle Trophy at around 7-4 and has still suffered defeat once in eight starts – behind his stable companion, Constitution Hill, in last season’s Supreme Novice Hurdle.
The curse of Sandown’s two winning posts returned earlier in the day, as Ben Bromley picked up a 28-day suspension having become the latest – but almost certainly not the last – jockey to confuse the two markers.
Bromley and Call Me Lord, the 4-1 second-favourite for the Pertemps Handicap Hurdle qualifier, passed the first winning post – which is used for chase events – in front of Dolphin Square and David Maxwell. Bromley, though, started to celebrate by standing up in his irons and two strides later, the hard-ridden Dolphin Square was ahead by a nose at the hurdles post.
“It was a stupid mistake,” Bromley said, “and it won’t happen again.”