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Jonbon extends unbeaten run over fences with victory at Warwick

CHELTENHAM Festival contender Jonbon extend his unbeaten run over fences when comfortably seeing off Calico in the feature £55,000 Virgin Bet Kingmaker Novices' Chase at Warwick on Saturday, writes David Hucker.

With course winner Haddex Des Obeaux and Bass Rock both withdrawn, the race was reduced to just two runners with Jonbon facing a solitary rival in Dan Skelton's Calico, rated 23lbs inferior by the official handicapper.

After making the early running at a steady pace, he was passed by Calico midway down the back straight and, for a moment or two, looked to be in trouble, raising the expectations of Calico's vociferous supporters in the crowd.

All was well in the end, however, as Jonbon, sent off the 1-16 favourite, asserted over the last two fences to win going away and now heads to Cheltenham's Sporting Life Arkle Challenge Trophy following in the footsteps of last year's winner Edwardstone.

There was a thrilling finish to the opener to get another large Warwick crowd of 5,369 on their toes when Messire Des Obeaux, the 8-1 outsider of the field, came late under Daryl Jacob to collar long-time leader Knight In Dubai and land the £40,000 Warwick Castle Handicap Chase.

After favourite Stolen Silver, who was to pull up before the home straight, had led over the first fence, it was Knight In Dubai who jumped to the front and took the runners along for the remainder of the two-and-a-half mile trip only to see the prize snatched from his grasp right on the line as Messire Des Obeaux got up to win by a neck.

As well as Jonbon, racegoers had hoped to see Love Envoi, winner of last season's Grade 2 Ryanair Mares' Novices' Hurdle at the Festival, have her final outing before Cheltenham this year in the £30,000 Virgin Bet Warwick Mares' Hurdle.

However, she was declared a non-runner because of the drying ground, along with Dan Skelton's West Balboa, leaving five to contest this Listed race and it was the odds-on favourite Theatre Glory who made just about all the running to see off Molly Ollys Wishes, going clear over the last two flights to win by 11 lengths.

There was another red-hot favourite in the Virgin Bet Novices' Hurdle over two miles in the shape of Hullnback, who followed up his Haydock Park win with an all-the way success in the hands of conditional jockey Jack Hogan.

Returned at 2-5 favourite, Hullnback comfortably saw off Gitche Gumee over the last two flights, with Byron Hill running a promising race in third.

The Virgin Bet Handicap Hurdle over two miles proved another thriller as five horses took the last flight together.

One of them was 13-2 shot Mr Freedom, a winner on the flat at Lingfield Park two weeks ago, who was only sixth turning for home here, but burst through on the run-in to deny favourite Hartur D'Oudairies by a neck.

One to note is Timeforaspin, having his first start for 623 days, who led until the penultimate flight and stayed on all the way to the line to be fourth.

After four second places on the afternoon, Dan Skelton was hoping to bag a winner with Dime Store Cowgirl in the Virgin Bet Fives Handicap Hurdle over two miles and five furlongs, but she was being pushed along leaving the back straight and never looked like winning.

She had been displaced as favourite by Imperial Alex, backed from 100-30 to 9-4, who prevailed, leading over the last flight and having just enough in reserve to repel the late challenge of Mole Court by half a length.

As the light faded, Favour And Fortune followed up his Southwell success with an impressive victory in the concluding Virgin Bet Open National Hunt Flat Race, beating Alright Dai and Guard Duty. After being outpaced on the turn, Charlie Longsdon's well-supported newcomer Gentleman Jacques ran on well to be fourth and looks a winner in waiting.

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