Horses To Follow » Joncol


No prizes for originality, but Joncol deserves a mention after landing the John Durkan Chase at Punchestown on Sunday. You have to admire Paul Nolan for the manner in which he has campaigned the son of Bob’s Return. Always a big scopey horse, he has never run over hurdles. After two point-to-points and two bumpers, he went straight over fences, winning his first two starts, including the Grade 2 Nas Na Riogh Chase at Naas, which would easily have booked him a place in the starting line up for the RSA Chase at Cheltenham, but Nolan resisted the temptation to send him over to the Costwolds, preferring instead to allow him contest another two-and-a-half-mile novices’ chase at Naas, for which he was sent off a 1/3 shot, and which he duly won like one.

It has to be said that Joncol was a little disappointing in the Grade 1 Novices’ Chase at the Punchestown Festival on his last start last season, when the step up to three miles should have been in his favour, as was the soft ground. But he didn’t jump with his usual efficiency that day, and he just kept on to finish third behind Rarebob and Gone To Lunch, with a below-par Cooldine well back in fourth. He didn’t run desperately badly, but you just might have expected even more. In two runs this season, however, he ha looked hugely exciting once again. He ran Tranquil Sea to a length in the Poplar Square Chase at Naas on his debut at the end of October over an inadequate two miles, giving him 9lb, and that rival went and danced in in the Paddy Power Gold Cup at Cheltenham last month off a mark of 148. Sunday’s performance from Joncol was even better. He and Aran Concerto took it in turns to lead the peloton until the fourth last, when they collided in mid-air, and In Compliance loomed up as a real danger on the outside. Joncol didn’t jump the third last that well either, and he looked to be fighting a losing battle against Dessie Hughes’s horse on the home turn, until his stamina kicked in and he powered over the last two fences to come clear on the run-in and win well.

Joncol is still only six. He is a massive horse, over 18hh, who is probably still growing into himself. He has run just six times over fences to date, and there is almost certainly more improvement to come. Next on his agenda is the Lexus Chase at Leopardstown, and he has to be on your shortlist for that. Looking further ahead, he also has to be on your shortlist for the Cheltenham Gold Cup itself. With the notable exception of the Ditcheat Duo, who will both be 10 years old in March, the Gold Cup seems to lack strength in-depth this year. We still don’t know that Joncol will handle the better ground that he will almost certainly encounter if he lines up in the Gold Cup, and he is such a big horse that you have to think that he wouldn’t want the ground too fast, coming down the hill on the far side. But Nolan is hopeful that he isn’t just a mudlark, and the ground is rarely too fast on any day at Cheltenham these days, such are the concerns over horses’ welfare. Of course, it may be a little fanciful to think that Joncol is going to beat Kauto Star or Denman, but he is improving while the two Nicholls horses are not, and it is worthwhile remembering that no 10-year-old has won the Gold Cup since 1998.

6th December 2009

© The Irish Field, 12th December 2009