The week's highlight was undoubtedly the spinetingling clash between two of the top heavyweights in the two-mile division, Shishkin and Energumene, at Ascot in the Grade 1 Clarence House on Saturday, and I am still in awe of the two champions.
It takes two horses to make an excellent race, and both went down fighting. We will have a glance at that race, settle the matter on Jonbon once and for all, and offer up an ante-post selection for our column with just seven weeks to go!
Still, we re-wind back to last Sunday in Ireland where a certain Novice Hurdler from the Willie Mullins camp rocked the Supreme Novice Hurdle and Ballymore markets with a scintillating performance in the Moscow Flyer.
Dysart just dynamite in blowing away rivals at Punchestown
Dysart Dynamo landed a sixth Moscow Flyer success in the last ten years for Willie Mullins and did it in some style. He scored by 19 lengths and ran out an easy victor, and there were a further 30 lengths back to the third.
The race on paper beforehand looked like it would prove a good test for the unbeaten Mullins runner with expensive purchase Guily Billy and stablemate Hawai Game arriving on the back of impressive victories.
However, that pair both pulled up, seemingly not giving their running. Hawai Game never travelled a yard, and it was quickly realised that his jumping wouldn't be good enough to go the scorching early tempo set by his stablemate. Guily Billy dropped out like a light suggesting something was a miss, and was later found to have fractured a notch of the hoof.
The eventual 19 length runner-up Gringo D'aubrelle had previously been trounced ten lengths by Stage Star at Newbury in the Challow Hurdle, so he looks the most reliable source to rate the race around.
This form looks a little uneasy, as does his Maiden Hurdle run prior. Still, Dysart Dynamo had given a good beating to some useful horses in his bumpers, including Grand Jury, who finished runner-up in the Grade 1 Lawlor's Of Naas.
The clock suggests he is one to fear if heading to the Supreme Novice Hurdle, for which he is a 3/1 chance on the Betfair Sportsbook. He ran the fastest time on the card compared to the two Maiden Hurdles, and there is substance to those Maiden runs. The two winners, Hiau and Supreme Jet had finished second and third behind Eric Bloodaxe by eight and 11 lengths in a Maiden Hurdle at Naas - a good form boost for our Albert Bartlett selection.
Dysart Dynamo was 6.90 secs (27.60 lengths) faster than Hiau from the first hurdle to the line and 10.70 secs (42.80 lengths) quicker than Supreme Jet. The Moscow Flyer winner was slower from three out to the finish than both comparative races, but he was so quick in the early part of the race - from the first hurdle to four-out 5.90 secs(23.60 lengths) and 10.62 secs (42.48 lengths) faster - that it didn't matter.
He looks every inch a Supreme Novice Hurdle candidate, and I would be astonished on this evidence would he step up in trip to the Ballymore for which he is a 6/1 chance.
Read the Supreme Novice Hurdle preview here.
Bob Olinger ultimately made easy work of Capodanno when they met in the Kildare Novices Chase at Punchestown last Sunday. Admittedly, he doesn't look natural over fences, but his raw ability and sizeable engine mean he can make mistakes and get away with them. There are not too many Novice Chases that can afford that luxury, and, likely, the tight inside track at Punchestown wouldn't have suited.
He is getting some stick because people want to see a floorless jumping performance and a bridle victory.
Gallopin Des Champs and Bravemansgame are prime examples of this, they were outstanding and imposing, but you don't know how they will react to a mistake because they have been foot perfect. Bob Olinger, you know, will have the engine to recover, and that's what I want in my arsenal when backing a horse for a Championship race.
He will prove very tough to beat.
Minella Crooner picked up a Maiden Hurdle win at Punchestown on Monday in good style. Interestingly, Gordon Elliott has gone to the Martin Pipe Hurdle with his two previous race winners. However, the trainer mentioned the Surehaul at Clonmel, suggesting that the Albert Bartlett will be the target for which he is a 11.010/1 chance to meet Leopardstown conquerer Journey With Me 6.05/1.
On Wednesday, Nicky Henderson' Walking On Air blew away his rivals when running out a ready winner of a Novice Hurdle at Newbury. He has been cut from 66/1 into 10/1 for the Ballymore Novices Hurdle and looks another promising prospect for the Seven Barrows yard.
At Lingfield on Friday, Fantastikas clung to victory in the Novices Chase over Queenohearts but was idling in front and pulled out more once his rival came to him inside the last 50 yards. He could be the type for the Ultima Handicap, 15.014/1 so worth keeping an eye on his progress.
On the same card, Love Envoi was an impressive winner of the opening Mares Novices Hurdle, and she is into 16/1 for the Mares Novices Hurdle at Cheltenham. Her overall time was around 0.80 secs faster than Metier later on the card, but you need to allow for the deteriorating ground there.
Huge Ascot clues
On Saturday at Ascot, Doctor Parnassus, a 75 rated flat recruit, ran out a ready winner of the Juvenile Hurdle. The form lacks substance with the two fancied market leaders running poor races, but he was visually impressive and is now 25/1 for the Triumph Hurdle.
Unexpected Party shot to the top of the Coral Cup market after a very impressive victory in the Holloway's Handicap Hurdle. He won as he liked, and connections confirmed that the 12.011/1 Coral Cup would be high on the agenda after the race. He is likely to get an eight to ten pounds rise for that win, but he is so unexposed he could have any amount in hand. He looks like an exciting prospect, and he had already steamed up the Cheltenham Hill this term when he chased home Gowel Road.
Sensational Shishkin strikes at Ascot
Shishkin and Energumene, what can you say? I don't want to get into the nitty-gritty of time figures or mistakes here nor there because it was a sensational race, an unforgettable moment in racing history. It's hard to see Energumene reversing the form at Cheltenham unless Shishkin finds trouble in the running with a bigger field, but I can't wait for round two. Shishkin is now 8/15 for the Champion Chase in March, while Energumene, who was stunning in defeat, is a 3/1 chance.
Jonbon a closed case after Haydock spin
Jonbon finally got a more authentic run race over at Haydock in which he ran out a good winner at odds of 2/5f but had to work hard to put his rivals to bed.
He travelled strongly but looked awkward under pressure and was checked jumping three-out but lost no momentum and quickly got to the leaders quarters despite hanging to the left. He was comfortably on top at the death, but he needed every yard of the trip in what was ultimately a workmanlike performance.
Despite some claims of him shortening, he was pushed out from 7/2 to 4/1 with the Betfair Sportsbook for the Supreme Novice Hurdle on the back of this effort.
The form of this race looks satisfactory but no more, and it's possible Might I had excuses after a bad error at the last when making his challenge. He had the door closed on him on the run-in, causing him to lose a few lengths, but he closed on Jonbon right to the line.
Those claiming that Jonbon is on par with Constitution Hill because Might I finished four lengths off Jonbon and was in receipt of five pounds (equating to 9 lengths) do not consider the length costing mistake, and the denied run. It isn't very reasonable to use this method when all the facts are not straightforward.
It was a likeable performance from Jonbon, if nothing more than a 140-145 rated run, but it may not have been a step forward on what he has shown thus far, albeit he has now run a fair time figure.
How They Compared on the clock
We must take into account the deteriorating ground throughout the day. Jonbon was the first race on the hurdle track on fresh ground. Tommy's Oscar was the following contest.
Jonbon 11st 11lbs
First hurdle to the finish line = 3.39
First hurdle to four-out = 2.09.35
Circuit time = 3.14.84
Three-out to finish = 46.67
Last to the finish = 24.32
Overall time = 3.57.23
Tommy's Oscar 11st 4lbs
First hurdle to the finish line = 3.37.91
First hurdle to four-out = 2.06.76
Circuit time = 3.12.88
Three-out to finish = 46.44
Last to the finish = 23.84
Overall time = 3.52.20
Tommy's Oscar superior by
+1.09 Secs or +4.36 lengths
+2.59 or +10.36 lengths
+1.96 or +7.84 lengths
+0.23 or +0.92 lengths
+0.48 or +1.92 lengths
+5.03 or +20.12 lengths
Tommy's Oscar's rating of 156 needs to come under scrutiny on the bare recent form and because he has been very well placed carrying top weight in races at Musselburgh, Kelso, etc. This performance wouldn't have enhanced his Champion Hurdle claims, for which he is a 25/1 shot when comparing it with the second and third behind Jonbon.
It does read ok for Jonbon, though, with the most reliable time figure the circuit time for which he was 7.84 lengths slower than Tommy's Oscar carrying seven pounds more.
The ground and the fact that Tommy's Oscar did this with relative ease in no more than a canter down to the last and was 0.48secs - nearly two lengths quicker from the last to the line is worrying for his Supreme backers.
The overall time figure is not always reliable, but breaking it down like the above can tell a story of how the race was run. Not at one stage has Jonbon shown enough to warrant a short price for the Supreme Novice Hurdle, but that's not saying there isn't more to come.
Still, facts are facts, and I think we have done enough in-depth work on Jonbon now to suggest this case is closed, although he could turn up to Cheltenham with three legs, and there will still be a superfan telling you he will win.
Last but not least
Royal Pagaille put in a very impressive weight-carrying performance to land back to back Peter Marsh Handicap Chase's scoring off a handicap mark of 163. He became the first horse since 1999 to score back to back, and all roads lead to the Gold Cup in March for which he is a 16/1 shot.
Joyeux Machin picked up a bumper victory at Navan on Saturday in good style and will likely follow in the footsteps of previous winners Three Stripe Life and Eskylane and run in the Champion Bumper, for which he is a 33/1 chance.
Grab the 10/1 about Mullins' Vauban for Triumph glory
I have waited a good while to get involved with this Triumph Hurdle market, but with each passing week, I am more and more tempted with the 11.010/1 on offer about Willie Mullins' Vauban.
Along with Pied Piper, he ran a blinding race on hurdle debut at Punchestown when the pair pulled 15 lengths clear of a good field to fight out the finish. Vauban came off second best but only for a mistake at the final flight, and he showed the ability to quicken twice in a race that recorded a 16.63 length faster three-out to finish time than Darver Star.
That needs to be taken with a pinch of salt, but Vauban shaped as though he would improve a good deal for that first outing in Ireland (came from France) and first for 165 days. His rival had been relatively fit from a flat run just 87 days earlier, and Vauban looked the stronger stayer of the two.
He has an abundance of potential in a field that lacks depth at the time of writing, and Pied Piper's connections will need to decide on which way they will go, given they have short-priced favourite Fill Dor.
Vauban surely only shortens for this contest, and his form ties in with Fill Dor through the fourth Max Mayhem, who was beaten a similar distance of 25 lengths. Vauban looks like a lovely prospect.