Philip Hobbs had a disappointing 2020 Cheltenham Festival with both Defi Du Seuil and Thyme Hill beaten favourites, but the Somerset handler gave updates on his stable stars.
Albert Bartlett fourth Thyme Hill is set to remain over hurdles next season with his trainer bemoaning the Grade 1 winning novice’s luck in-running.
“He has been getting better with each run over hurdles,” Hobbs told the Racing Post. “He was possibly unlucky at Cheltenham.
“We thought long and hard about what trip we were going to run him over, but unless the ground was desperate we were going to go up to three miles. He was staying on extremely well and just got stopped twice at the wrong time.
“It’s very likely he will stay over hurdles with the Stayers’ Hurdle in mind. He has schooled very well over fences, but I think we will delay chasing for 12 months.”
Thyme Hill was third in the 2019 Champion Bumper at Cheltenham, but then won his first three hurdles outings. Hobbs pitched him straight into Grade 2 company over obstacles and he landed the Persian War at Chepstow before following-up in a Ballymore Trial at Cheltenham.
Prior to finishing out of the frame at the Festival, Thyme Hill took the Grade 1 Challow Novices’ Hurdle at Newbury over the festive period. Several bookmakers are a top-price 16/1 about him winning the Stayers at Cheltenham on 18 March 2021.
Hobbs also said nothing has come to light about Queen Mother Champion Chase flop Defi Du Seuil.
Sent off odds-on in a race billed as the event of the 2020 Cheltenham Festival before dual winner Altior and leading Irish contender Chacun Pour Soi both pulled out, last year’s 2019 JLT Novices’ Chase hero ran a well below par fourth.
Defi Du Seuil came into Cheltenham off the back of wins in the Shloer Chase over the same course and distance, Tingle Creek at Sandown and Clarence House at Ascot. However, he was never travelling at any stage during the Festival.
“There was no reason at all for his disappointing run,” Hobbs said of Defi Du Seuil in the Champion Chase. “I think we have just got to put a line through it and start again.”
Defi Du Seuil is a dual Cheltenham Festival winner in his own right, completing an unbeaten juvenile campaign which included the 2017 Triumph Hurdle. He then had a season in the wilderness when Hobbs’s horses weren’t running well at all.
The JP McManus owned seven-year-old bounced back to form last term, however, with wins in the Grade 1 Scilly Isles and JLT. Both of those victories came over further than the Champion Chase trip, though.
When asked about next season’s plans for Defi Du Seuil, Hobbs added: “I would have thought he will probably take a similar path.” The bookies quote him for both the Champion Chase (14/1) and Ryanair Chase (20/1) over two-and-a-half miles in 2021.
Leading owner McManus also has Arkle Challenge Trophy second Fakir D’oudairies for either race. Defi Du Seuil will likely be kept apart from the Joseph O’Brien trained horse at Cheltenham.
McManus also has Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle seventh Sporting John with Hobbs. Previously unbeaten in four career starts (including an Irish point) going into the Festival and sent off at 5/1, he was never travelling on his first try in Grade 1 company.
Hobbs revealed that Sporting John had an issue with his hind legs at Cheltenham. “The vet saw him straight after the race and there was definitely something wrong,” said the trainer.
“His hind legs were not working as they should be, [yet] within a few hours he was perfectly all right again. It was extremely odd, but there was definitely something amiss.
“It is extremely likely to have affected his performance. He has been perfectly all right since though, and we are looking forward to him going novice chasing.”
This certainly explains why Sporting John trailed in well-beaten by 30 lengths by Envoi Allen in the Ballymore. On pedigree – he is by Getaway out of an Oscar mare – the obvious 2021 Cheltenham Festival targets for him are either the Marsh Novices’ Chase or RSA Chase.
Sporting John is made a 40/1 outsider for either with bookmakers, though, and actually shorter in the market on the Arkle at 33/1. Hobbs will hope for better luck with this five-year-old and there is definitely more to come from him if taking to fences.