Things We Learned » Hobbsy horses

Hobbsy horses

We all know the Cheltenham trainers. Nicky Henderson, only one meeting matters. Paul Nicholls, concert pitch for Cheltenham. Willie Mullins, start preparing for Cheltenham 19 months out. Philip Hobbs. Philip Hobbs?

Hobbs is as much a Cheltenham target trainer as the top three, but he doesn’t seem to get the same press as the others do. Of course, he doesn’t have quite the strength in-depth that Henderson, Nicholls and Mullins do this season, ergo he doesn’t generate as much interest or as many column inches, but there is a chance that some of his horses have gone a little under the radar, and that they will go under-bet as a result in 10 days’ time.

The Somerset trainer has had a quiet enough season thus far by his standards. At the beginning of March last year, he had 69 winners on the board for the season, at the same stage in 2009, he had 73. This year, he has just 52. History tells us, though, that March is his month.

Things for the three big Hobbs horses from last season – Menorah, Captain Chris and Wishfull Thinking – just haven’t panned out as expected this term. You would never have believed that, from 12 collective runs this term to date, the only two wins that this illustrious triumvirate have recorded between them are Menorah’s two wins in two decidedly uncompetitive three-horse novice chases. Add to that the injury blow that has ruled Fingal Bay out of Cheltenham, and you could understand it – in the unlikely even that he was so inclined – if the trainer was a little downbeat these days.

Hobbs had just three winners from 47 runners in February this year, a statistic and a strike rate that smacks of a yard that is well out of form. However, two of those three winners came from two of his last three runners. Also, only one of the trainer’s last nine runners in February failed to make the frame. This smacks of a yard that is running right into form at just the right time.

It wouldn’t be at all surprising if several of the Hobbs horses out-performed their respective odds by a fair way at Cheltenham. Horses like the afore-mentioned trio Menorah, Wishfull Thinking and Captain Chris, as well as Dunraven Storm, Mostly Bob, Big Easy, Colour Squadron, Village Vic and Sadler’s Risk could yet have their say, and the 33/1 that they are offering about Hobbs being top trainer for the week may just be a little generous.


Forget your money-back-if-you-finish-second-beaten-less-than-a-length-and-a-half-by-the-favourite offers, the single most generous concession that those wily bookmakers offer to us pauper punters is the annual non-runner-no-bet concession at Cheltenham.

It is true that the Day Of Race markets are really strong at the Cheltenham Festival, and that there will be horses who will be longer on the day than they are in the ante post market at present, but to be able to back a horse to win a race at an ante post price (or close to it) now, 10 days out, secure in the knowledge that if he doesn’t run you get your money back, is huge.

And it isn’t just to the horses whose intended targets are not certain yet – the Boston Bobs and the Grands Crus of the world – that this concession is applicable, it is to every horse who is a possible runner at Cheltenham, simply because, as sure as eggs is eggs, there will be scratchings between now and 13th March. If a horse that you have backed is one of those scratchings, you get your money back. If a potential rival to a horse that you have backed is one of those scratchings, the chance that your horse will win will have been enhanced, but your potential return will not have been reduced. It’s like having your cake buttered on both sides.

Novice discussion

Willie Mullins, novice hurdlers, Cheltenham – discuss. (Hint: Begin with Boston Bob.)

Option 1: Run Boston Bob in the Albert Bartlett. That means that you can run Make Your Mark and/or Felix Yonger in the Neptune, as well as Sous Les Cieux. Run Midnight Game and Allure Of Illusion in the Supreme.

Option 2: Run Boston Bob in the Neptune, as well as Make Your Mark.  Run Felix Yonger in the Albert Bartlett, and run Midnight Game, Sous Les Cieux and Allure Of Illusion in the Supreme.

Option 3: Run Midnight Game in the Supreme, run Boston Bob in the Neptune and in the Albert Bartlett, and keep the rest of them fresh for Punchestown.

Market forces

He may not be going to Cheltenham, but there was a lot to like about the manner in which Play The Market battled on to land his maiden hurdle at Naas last Saturday.

Third behind Monksland in a Down Royal bumper last November, the ground was probably too soft and the distance probably too sharp for Jessica Harrington’s gelding – a half-brother to Midlands National winner Minella Fourstar – on Sunday, on just his second run over hurdles, yet he still managed to win well in a decent time, with the front two clear. He should improve now for better ground and for a step up in trip, with this experience under his girth.

His trainer suggested afterwards that a two-and-a-half-mile handicap hurdle at Fairyhouse or Punchestown could be just the thing for him now, and that makes a lot of sense, as the handicapper shouldn’t be too harsh. He might be worth a second look if he appears at one of the Irish festivals.

Sacre scare

“I am worried about the hill all right,” said Barry Geraghty thoughtfully, Westmanstown Pre-Cheltenham Evening, Wednesday, 29th February 2012, in response to a question about Sprinter Sacre. (After all, he didn’t come up the hill last year in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, did he?)

“I’m worried that there won’t be enough room at the top of it to pull him up.”

© The Irish Field, 3rd March 2012