It’s been 12 years since Phillip Hobbs last landed the Vincent O’Brien County Hurdle at Cheltenham but in the hotly-tipped Cheltenian the trainer believes he could well end that drought.
The 14/1 shot will head to Prestbury Park with the Grade 3 hurdle his confirmed target and Hobbs believes the 2011 Champion Bumper winner can emulate the success of his past renewal victors.
Eventual Champion Hurdle winner Rooster Booster delivered a second County Hurdle triumph for the Sandhill saddler in 2002.
And like his predecessor, Cheltenian will bid to score in the same race as an eight-year-old in the hands of stable jockey Richard Johnson.
A creditable fourth in this season’s Betfair Hurdle, a key race in terms of providing County Hurdle clues, was a much-needed tune-up for a horse making only his fourth start over timber with Hobbs keen to point out how one of his best Festival chances is open to further improvement.
He told the Racing Post: “Cheltenian could be our best chance in the County Hurdle on Friday. Richard [Johnson] feels he’s a tough, robust horse who will manage the hurly-burly very well… He’s definitely done enough work now and I think he can get better.”
Despite such positive sentiments, Anthony Honeyball’s Regal Encore remains the 8/1 favourite with Ladbrokes, however the JP McManus-owned six-year-old has some questions to answer after being beaten when a heavy odds-on favourite at Hexham last time out.
Not even champion jockey AP McCoy could see last year’s Champion Bumper runner-up over the line in front, with other options potentially making more appeal.
Five-year-olds have a tremendous recent record in the race, producing eight of the last 15 victors, with Greatwood Hurdle winner Dell’Arca fitting into that bracket at 12/1.
And given that nine of the previous 10 successful entrants have been priced at odds no greater than 20/1 it may not pay to look too far down the list.
Meanwhile, Ditcheat saddler Paul Nicholls is chasing an historic fourth renewal victory with five-year-old Lac Fontana holding strong claims, also at 12/1.
Daryl Jacob has already steered the mount to two victories at Cheltenham this season and with seven of the previous 10 County Hurdle winners making their first run at the Festival a memorable hat-trick could be secured in Gloucestershire.
All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing.
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