IT HAS been a superb season so far for trainer Philip Hobbs, who has already surpassed his total from last year and is operating at a near-20 per cent strike rate.
That is in stark contrast to last year when illness laid his yard low. However, with the likes of novice chasers Defi Du Seuil and Jerrysback leading the way the trainer is poised to finish the season in style.
We caught up with Hobbs to talk over his weekend runners at Cheltenham and get the latest on his big names.
You endured a below-par season in 2017-18. What was that like to deal with?
The horse’s weren’t healthy last season so it made life more difficult for all of us and it was frustrating. Having said that, we had 60 winners last season so it was hardly terrible. It was just not up to the same sort of level that we normally have, which shows how well we normally do.
The horses have certainly bounced back this year. Have you changed anything at all?
Nothing in particular. The horses are healthy and that makes everything a lot easier. When they’re able to train well they tend to run well and that’s what they have been doing this year.
War Sound bids to bounce back to form in the Grade 3 Handicap Chase at Cheltenham on Saturday. How do you think he will get on?
War Sound won really nicely on his first start at Aintree but he was disappointing last time at Cheltenham. We’ve not been able to find any reason why that might be so we’re going into the race just hoping he can come back to the form of his first run of the year.
Demopolis is your other runner at Cheltenham in the 2m handicap hurdle. How do you rate his prospects?
We’re testing the water with him but we’ve got to be realistic. On what he’s done so far he’s going to have to do a lot more than he’s done on his two runs for us this season.
Rock The Kasbah is 25-1 for the Grand National. Is Aintree the aim for him?
We’re definitely working back from the Grand National with him as we think he’s a sort who has the attributes to run well at Aintree. Whether or not he has another run before the race I’m not sure. We might see what happens after the weights come out next month.
Defi Du Seuil has looked good over fences this season. What did you make of his last run?
It was a very good performance in the Dipper and it was another step forward over fences. He’s been given entries in the Arkle and the JLT at the Cheltenham Festival and we’ll make a decision about which race he goes in closer to the time, but he’s a high-class horse.
And where might we see Defi Du Seuil before the Cheltenham Festival?
He could go for the Scilly Isles Novices’ Chase at Sandown next weekend which is over two and a half miles. He seems in very good form at the moment.
Jerrysback has produced some good performances this season. What did you make of his run at Haydock last weekend?
We were disappointed to be beaten at Haydock last weekend, but when you look at where the other horses rated the same as him finished it was a pretty good performance overall. We have a lot of faith in the horse and we’re looking forward to the spring with him.
And where might we see him in the spring?
He’s generally been good over his fences this season and we’ve entered him for the National Hunt Novices’ Chase and the RSA Chase at the Cheltenham Festival. Again, we’ll decide which race may suit him closer to the time.
And, finally, we haven’t seen the useful Crooks Peak for a while. What is the plan for him?
He’s a horse we’ve always thought wants better ground. Even though there hasn’t been much rain this winter, we’d already taken the decision to give him a break and freshen him up for the spring so we stuck to that. We’ll bring him back in a few weeks and get him going but he won’t have any big targets at this stage. He’s a horse we like and he’s done nothing wrong up to now.