Hobbs hazy over Captain target
HOW Captain Chris performs in his next race will determine whether he lines up in the Ryanair Chase or the Gold Cup at Cheltenham in March.
Philip Hobbs' charge has endured an interrupted campaign this term, but still finished third in the King George on St Stephen’s Day, his first run over three miles. Yet even that performance left Hobbs scratching his head.
“I think he's got a lot to prove as yet,” said the Minehead handler.
“His runs in the spring last year were a big improvement and we were pleased with his comeback in the Haldon Gold Cup at Exeter, even though he unseated.
“The only disappointing thing in the King George was he's normally a horse who jumps and travels very well and he didn't do either, although he stayed on all right.
“The finishing position was satisfactory but throughout the race he didn't nearly perform as well as normal and we're hoping that he maybe wasn't quite A1 - although we wouldn't have run him if we didn't think he was.
“The (Gold Cup) trip is a bit of a concern but he's a better horse on good ground, which is likely at Cheltenham, although finding it before then is the problem.
“He also has a slight inclination to jump slightly to his right, he doesn't lug right during the race.
“But, having said that, it was a very good performance in the Arkle so it's a minor disadvantage.
“You would want everything in your favour for a Gold Cup. The Ryanair is definitely an option and I'd like to run him beforehand as that will tell us which direction we are going to go.”
Trainer Victor Dartnall is to wait for the handicapper's assessment of Giles Cross before making any plans for his dual Welsh National runner-up. “We'll see what the handicapper does and go on from there,” said Dartnall.
Dartnall intends to resist any temptation to run Roudoudou Ville again before the Cheltenham Festival.
Roudoudou Ville led over the final fence in the Spinal Research The Atlantic 4 Gold Cup only to be collared in the dying strides and take third place behind Quantitativeeasing and Medermit.
“It's likely we'll wait for the Byrne Group Plate at Cheltenham,” said Dartnall. “I don't want to run him and get his mark affected.”
Tocca Ferro may have his first run in over a year in the Imperial Cup at Sandown in March.
“He's back being ridden and everything has been good so far,” said trainer Emma Lavelle.\[Ian Winterton\]
“However, it's likely that the Trophy at Newbury will come too soon for him.
“Hopefully we'll have him fit enough for the Imperial Cup at Sandown in March.
“He's looking a little fat but his legs are good which is the main thing.”
Lavelle, meanwhile, hopes Penny Max will develop into a future Hennessy Gold Cup contender.
Owned by Highclere Thoroughbred Racing, who are more used to planning a route to Royal Ascot than Cheltenham, the six-year-old has won two of his first three starts over fences.
While Lavelle is keen to keep things low key this term, she hopes he can progress into a top staying chaser down the line.
“He's only six so is still filling out his frame, but he is improving massively race by race and I still think there's more to come,” she said.
“Soft ground is important to him but it's not essential I don't think.
“If he keeps progressing as he is, the dream would be that he could be a Hennessy horse.
“He's come out of his last race very well indeed and we'll have a sit down to discuss where next - possibly a Grade Two novice chase somewhere.
“This season, at least, Cheltenham is not at the forefront of my mind for him.”
Lavelle has another nice prospect on her hands in the shape of Gullinbursti, who has won both his starts over hurdles this season and she will follow a tried and tested route with him.
“He's a lovely horse and he tries so hard,” said Lavelle.
“I think he'll go to Warwick next for the same Grade Two (Leamington Spa) we won with Court In Motion last season.