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El Fabiolo sees off old rival Jonbon for Arkle glory

El Fabiolo got the better of Jonbon in the Sporting Life Arkle Challenge Trophy, to get Willie Mullins and Paul Townend off the mark at the Cheltenham Festival.

The duo fought out a titanic battle over hurdles at Aintree last season and the rematch was just as entertaining, with the main protagonists coming to the fore in the closing stages.

Dysart Dynamo took up his customary position setting the pace at the head of proceedings, with both Aidan Coleman aboard Jonbon and Townend on El Fabiolo content to stalk the front-runner as Danny Mullins led the field along with his usual zest.

Jonbon crept on Dysart Dynamo’s tail heading down country to three out and was soon angled out to press the Closutton second string. But Townend bided his time aboard the 11-10 favourite, only moving El Fabiolo into contention rounding the home bend.

From then the powerhouse clash all at Prestbury Park had been waiting for ensued as the big three matched strides from two out to the last and when Dysart Dynamo fell at the final fence, El Fabiolo was still full of running and confirmed the promise of his hugely impressive performance from the Dublin Racing Festival.

He was five and a half lengths clear of Nicky Henderson’s 2-1 second-favourite at the line, with Closutton stablemate Saint Roi staying on to pick up third at 11-1.

Mullins said: “He travelled as well as I was hoping the whole way. Paul said he hit a flat spot down the back but then when he picked him up, he came alive under him.

“I didn’t watch the finish as I was trying to watch our other horse who had fallen, but thankfully he’s OK.

“It’s good to get on the board early in the day. It was a bit of a worry at the last but I thought, all being well, it looked like he had enough in reserve at that stage.

“He has a habit of brushing through the top of his fences but it is not something we are practicing! Like a lot of French horses, he can find a fifth leg due to all the schooling they do early in their careers.

“I’m not looking to up him in trip yet, I always think if a horse is comfortable at two miles they are easier to train and keep sound, so I’m hoping he’s a Champion Chase horse for next year.”

Townend added: “I was half afraid Danny (Mullins, on Dysart Dynamo) was getting a bit of a freebie at one stage and Danny is very dangerous from the front. At the same time Dysart likes to get on with it and wasn’t giving Danny an easy time.

“The ground is testing and it’s taking a bit of getting. When I was left on my own I got a little idle down the back, but when I wanted him to race he came alive for me.

“He’s not the most natural of jumpers at every fence, but he knows where his feet are and he gets away with it.

“He was brave to go down the inner at two out and there wasn’t a whole lot there at the last, but again he found his feet at the back of it and he galloped to the top of that hill on the ground, which is a good sign.”

Henderson felt the Cheltenham ground had slightly gone against Jonbon.

He said: “I’ve always said and felt he’d be better on better ground – he gallops like that.

“He’s done nothing wrong. He came to have a crack at it. We were tracking Dysart Dynamo and I’m glad to see he’s OK, which is important. We got him, but the other fellow was doing the same to us.”

When asked whether Jonbon is now likely to step up in trip, the trainer added: “Definitely. I think he’d go as far as you like on good ground.

“We’ll definitely look at Aintree. I don’t think you’d go to three miles, but you’d certainly go two and a half. Aintree is the one place you want to step them all up half a mile.

“All being well, the others will stay in Ireland and we’ll go to Aintree.”

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