Cheltenham: Hobbs’ Wishfull Thinking could be punt worth taking
Gambles come in all forms this week; yesterday trainer Philip Hobbs took a chance and landed the first leg of what might prove a succulent double.
With two talented novice chasers at his disposal, he decided that one bite at each of two cherries would be better than two bites at one. So he re-routed Captain Chris to yesterday's two-mile Arkle Trophy, leaving tomorrow's longer Jewson Chase to stablemate Wishfull Thinking.
“The other race would probably have suited Captain Chris better,” he said after the seven-year-old had seen off Finian's Rainbow in some style. “And we could have played safe and given ourselves two chances. But we decided to go for glory and try to win both.”
Glory indeed. Yesterday's contest, the one Hobbs was less sure about, is the two-mile novices' crown, a Grade 1 with a purse of £130,000; tomorrow's is a Grade 2 worth £90,000.
Hobbs reasoned that yesterday's fast ground would provide the fast pace that would bring Captain Chris's proven reserves of stamina into play, and so it proved.
Richard Johnson kept Diana Whateley's gelding in touch with the gallop set by Dan Breen and Stagecoach Pearl and Finian's Rainbow, who took over in the back straight, had no answer to his relentless challenge from the penultimate obstacle and his powerful surge up the hill.
“He really winged the second-last,” said Johnson. “And for a big horse he was pretty nimble when he didn't meet the last right. His confidence seems to be growing with every race and I think he's probably quite special.”
Captain Chris has been helped by surgery to his airway, to help with his intake of oxygen.
The veterinary attention experienced by the three-mile handicap chase winner Bensalem at Alan King's Wiltshire yard during the winter was rather less routine; in fact, without Jeremy Swan, MRCVS, he would have died from pleurisy.
If Captain Chris's race was a last-minute afterthought, Bensalem's was most definitely not.
The eight-year-old had fallen when travelling supremely well in the equivalent contest 12 months previously, and his name had been on his bid for compensation since.
After he fended off Carole's Legacy by a hard-fought half-length, there was an emotional welcome for him from both his trainer and owner Alan Marsh.
“Justice has been done and this means an awful, lot,” said King.
The race proved painful for champion jockey Tony McCoy, the Ulsterman suffering a heavy fall from Sunnyhillboy, although he was able to ride Quantitativeeasing in the last of the day, finishing in second place.
The idiosyncratic cross-country contest over the quirky fences on the infield is an acquired taste for both viewers and competitors; in yesterday's edition Sizing Australia, trained by Henry de Bromhead and ridden by Andrew Lynch, gave the Irish their second success of the day when thwarting dual past hero Garde Champetre, with the reigning king A New Story making it a clean sweep.
Divers, trained by Ferdy Murphy in Yorkshire, took the closing novices' handicap chase.
Runner-up Quantitativeasing confirmed a frustrating day for Nicky Henderson as his sixth placed horse in the five races in which he fielded runners.