Oli Bell’s 20-20 interview with Philip Hobbs

The Racing UK presenter fires twenty questions at Philip Hobbs on his Cheltenham Festival team, whether Rooster Booster would have a prayer in this season’s Stan James Champion Hurdle and who he would most like to have dinner with.

You have a decent team going to Cheltenham this year, headed by recent Ascot victor Captain Chris, is he a definite runner in this year’s Gold Cup?  

Yes, provided the ground is not heavy.

How impressed where you by his Ascot performance and now much will he need to improve to win a Gold Cup in your opinion?

It was a below standard Grade One but he won very well. He is now rated 172, which definitely would give him a each way chance if he copes with the track.

Are you worried that Cheltenham may not play to his strengths and if so, what is it about Cheltenham that concerns you?

Simply that he has always had a tendency to go right which is far from ideal with Cheltenham being left handed. But he did win the Arkle at Cheltenham!

How strong a renewal of the Gold Cup do you think it is?

Silviniaco Conti and Bobsworth are very good if producing their best on the day.

Wishful Thinking put up a good weight-carrying performance to win on heavy ground at Cheltenham. He has a few options at The Festival, including the Ryanair Chase, which way are you leaning with him?

We’re heading for the Champion Chase now that Sprinter Sacre doesn’t run. He wouldn’t be far behind the best in the race although two miles may be a bit short for him at his age.

Menorah was victorious at the Festival in 2010 in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle. He’s now plying his trade over the larger obstacles so where will he go?

He’ll be aimed at the Ryanair Chase. He would stay three miles but 2m5f is ideal for him.

Five out of the last six Ryanair Chase winners have been beaten in the King George VI Chase at Kempton, and last time out Menorah was pulled up in Kempton’s Christmas showpiece. He hasn’t been seen since, was everything okay after Boxing Day?

All fine, but we just have not found any reasonable ground for him.

It was great to see Fingal Bay win at Exeter recently because he is a very talented horse, indeed a previous winner of the Grade One Challow Hurdle, are you considering running him in the World Hurdle?

Probably not because off 148 he would not be very competitive.

The handicapper only gave you a 6lbs rise for that Exeter win, it’s not often this happens but you must have been happy when you saw his new mark was only 148?  

Not too bad for a Grade One winner! The Pertemps final is the race for him.

You have a strong team of novices this year. Of those going to Cheltenham, who are you looking forward to seeing run?  

Champagne West is probably the best of them and should run in the Albert Bartlett, in which Sausalito Sunrise will run too. Garde La Victoire should go to the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle and Royal Player in the Neptune but both are also in handicaps.

Any handicap good things you want to tell us about for the Festival?

Certainly no good things but maybe Cheltenian would be the most fancied in the County Hurdle.

Is Balthazar King on course for another crack at the Cross Country race, and how is he?

He is really good but would not run if softer than good to soft.

You have trained 16 Festival winners through the years, is there one win in particular that stands out for you?  

Rooster Booster winning the Champion Hurdle. He is the best we have trained.

If Rooster Booster was running in this year’s Champion Hurdle, where would he finish?

He would have an each -way chance but I think The New One is the one with most possible improvement and he loves Cheltenham.

What race that you haven’t won already would you most like to win?

We would be delighted to win a Gold Cup or a Grand National. I don’t mind which!

If you could invite five people round for dinner who would they be?

Trainers Sir Mark Prescott, Nigel Twiston-Davies, Kim Bailey, Merrick Francis, son of Dick Francis the writer and Sarah, my wife.

What’s your most embarrassing moment on a racecourse?

Falling off Kinnivie in the National at Valentines just after I had got engaged to Sarah.

Who has had the biggest influence on your career?

John Thorne, the trainer of Artifice. His horses were very fit when I was riding for him.

Favourite sport outside of racing?

Skiing or Shooting

And finally…what is your party trick?

I’m too boring for one of those!

Philip Hobbs profile:

Based: Sandhill, Bilbrook, Minehead, Somerset

Date of Birth: 26/7/55

Background: Philip was brought up surrounded by horses. His father Tony Hobbs farmed, and had a permit to train for many years, breeding several good horses to run in the family colours. After school at Kings College, Taunton, Philip went on to Reading University and achieved a BSc honours degree. He rode at Hickstead, show jumping as a junior, and rode several point-to-point winners and winners under National Hunt rules as an amateur before turning professional at the age of 21. Rode 160 winners in a 10-year career including The Black and White Gold Cup at Ascot, The Killiney Novice Chase and The Midlands Grand National on such good horses as West Tip and Artifice.

Date of first Trainer’s Licence: August 1, 1985

Cheltenham Festival Wins (16): Pulteney Land Investments Novices’ Handicap Chase (2010 Copper Bleu), William Hill Supreme Novices’ Hurdle (2010 Menorah), Vincent O’Brien County Handicap Hurdle (1990 Moody Man, 2002 Rooster Booster), Johnny Henderson Grand Annual Handicap Chase(1996 Kibreet), Coral Cup H’cap Hurdle (2000 What’s Up Boys, 2004 Monkerhostin), sportingbet.com Queen Mother Champion Chase (2002 Flagship Uberalles), Stan James Champion Hurdle (2003 Rooster Booster), RSA Chase (2003 One Knight), JCB Triumph Hurdle (2004 Made In Japan, 2006 Detroit City), Neptune Investment Management Novices’ Hurdle (2007 Massini’s Maguire), Racing Post Arkle Trophy Novices’ Chase (2011 Captain Chris), Weatherbys Champion Bumper (2011 Cheltenian), Glenfarclas Cross Country Handicap Steeple Chase (2012 Balthazar King)

Aintree Festival wins: Betfred Manifesto Novices’ Chase (2011 Wishfull Thinking, 2012 Menorah), John Smith’s Novices’ Handicap Chase (2007 Private Be), John Smith’s Topham Chase (1997 Bells Life, 2001 Gower-Slave), Citroen C6 Sefton Novices’ Hurdle (1996 Pleasure Shared), John Smith’s Liverpool Hurdle (1996 Pleasure Shared), John Smith’s Extra Cold H’cap Hurdle (1999 Papo Kharisma), John Smith’s Top Novices’ Hurdle (2000 Phardante Flyer, 2001 Ilico II, 2002 In Contrast), John Smith’s Fox Hunters’ Chase (2000 Bells Life), John Smith’s Anniversary 4-Y-O Novices’ Hurdle (2000 Lord Brex, 2006 Detroit City), John Smith’s Mildmay Novices’ Chase (2001 What’s Up Boys), John Smith’s Extra Smooth Handicap Hurdle (2006 Wellbeing, 2008 Pearl King)

Number of Winners (1990/91-2012/13): 33; 51; 37; 64; 86; 77; 64; 71; 84; 120; 82; 119; 134; 121; 121; 112; 111; 108; 103; 86; 86; 73; 68

Winners this Season: 82

Source: Racing UK Blogs, Oli Bell, 26 February 2014


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