Philip Hobbs has issued a soft ground warning about his totesport Cheltenham Gold Cup hope Monkerhostin, who is disputing favouritism with Beef Or Salmon at 5-1 with the sponsors.
The nine-year-old emerged as an unlikely market leader for the blue riband when failing by just a neck to catch Kicking King in the Stan James King George VI Chase on Boxing Day. He will be accompanied to post by stablemate One Knight.
However, Hobbs is fearful of testing conditions for Monkerhostin and at his press day this morning, said: “On good ground I would fancy Monkerhostin better than One Knight, but if the ground came up soft it would be a major disaster and Monkerhostin would have no chance.”
Soft ground is a rarity at Cheltenham in March, however, and Hobbs believes Monkerhostin to be worthy of his position at the forefront of the Gold Cup market.
“At the beginning of the season when he won at Exeter, I was half-thinking about taking the Queen Mother route with him and running him in the Gold Cup was the last thing on my mind,” he said.
“But since the King George it’s been clear that he stays and in that race I think he would have beaten Kicking King in another 100 yards.
“My horse has had a bit of a break since Sandown and the fact that he missed Aon when Newbury was called off is not a concern. He’s been in very good order and I can’t wait to take him to Cheltenham.”
One Knight is to be partnered by Paddy Brennan in the Gold Cup, with Richard Johnson electing to side with Monkerhostin.
The former has been accident prone over the last two or three years, but Brennan got some good jumps out of him before his last-fence fall in the Coral Welsh National when looking held by L’Aventure.
One Knight likes to get on with things and Hobbs observed: “He pleased me in his work this morning and schooled beautifully earlier in the week. His form figures suggest his jumping is worse than it is but in truth he’s just been unlucky.
“He stays extremely well and goes on any ground and I haven’t ruled out running him in the Grand National as well.”
Hobbs is set to mount a strong challenge on the County Hurdle, for which he has three serious contenders in the shape of Motorway, Noble Request and Zalda.
Putting forward Motorway as the dark horse of his team for that race, Hobbs explained: “He hasn’t run since he fell at Sandown as it seemed sensible to give him a break.
“He could run in the Imperial Cup before Cheltenham and I am keeping my fingers crossed he gets into the County; otherwise we might have to think about the Coral Cup.
“Noble Request is rated 132 and went up a stone for winning at Wincanton. I hope the handicapper got it right and that he’s improving as fast as he thinks he is.
“Zalda is best fresh and wants good ground, which is why I have given her a break.”
Hobbs is hoping to notch a second JCB Triumph Hurdle success, with his main hopes resting on the grey shoulders of Detroit City.
“It was decent ground when he won at Newbury and Sandown. He stays extremely well and ideally I wish the Triumph was two furlongs longer,” he said.
“I also have Fair Along in the race, who is seriously quick and will blaze off in front.”
Hobbs looks to Dream Alliance as a chaser of the future and hopes to run the gelding in the Brit Insurance Novices’ Hurdle.
He said: “He was green on his first outing and then bolted up the next twice and I really don’t know how good he is. He wants three miles. He has a very good attitude and could be anything. Chasing will be his game next year.”
Leading Contender came in for support for the Weatherbys Champion Bumper earlier in the week and his trainer commented: “He’s the forgotten horse of the race. He’s unbeaten but hasn’t run since the Open meeting. He’s one who would cope with softer ground.”
Hobbs sees Boychuk as holding “a decent each-way chance” in the opening Anglo Irish Bank Supreme Novices’ Hurdle and he concluded: “The one thing he does want is good ground and he’ll be suited by the fast pace he’ll get in the Supreme.
“If he comes out of it OK he could run in the County Hurdle as well.”