When Philip Hobbs walked out of Cheltenham last November, he was left wondering where he stood with Defi Du Seuil – but that feeling was very different on Sunday, with his stable star making a triumphant return in the Shloer Chase.
After finishing last of five in the Arkle Trial 12 months ago, with a display that left much to be desired, it looked as though the JP McManus-owned six-year-old was carrying a hangover from a season in the wilderness, putting his career at a crossroads.
Keen to avoid a repeat, the Minehead handler made sure he used that performance as a lesson to take the necessary steps ahead of Defi Du Seuil’s comeback victory, one which advertised his credentials for the Queen Mother Champion Chase in March.
It was also a triumph that formed the centre piece of a fine day for the green and gold silks of McManus, which were to the fore in six races in Britain and Ireland – two each at Cheltenham, Cork and Punchestown.
Hobbs said: “We learnt a bit from 12 months ago, because he has had two days away.
“It was his first chase when he came here last year and that was a bit different for him. He ballooned a few that day and we tried to make sure he was right this time by taking him away schooling and two racecourse gallops as well.
“We hardly ever take a horse for a racecourse gallop, but we didn’t want him coming here needing the run.
“If a horse needs a first run of the season it doesn’t normally matter, but with him it’s a bit different.”
Having watched Defi Du Seuil conquer all before him as juvenile before suffering a disappointing second season over hurdles, Hobbs never lost faith that the 2017 Triumph Hurdle winner would get back on track.
He subsequently did, with his resurgence highlighted by two Grade One victories over fences last term – including back at the Festival in the JLT Novices’ Chase.
Hobbs said: “We all know it is difficult for horses in their second season after they have won the Triumph Hurdle.
“It was two runs and our horses weren’t right. After he went to Leopardstown it was best to finish for the season rather than continue, so it was a blip.
“At the end of the day it is a bit behind us now – he did very well over fences last season and now this season so far.
“He has the most fantastic attitude and is really tough and very genuine and you can’t say that about many of them.”
With Altior set for a step up in trip, a void will need filling in the two-mile division – one Hobbs hopes Defi Du Seuil can take another step towards in next month’s Tingle Creek at Sandown.
He said: “I’m sure he will go to the Tingle Creek. He has got plenty of pace and the softer ground would have helped today.
“He will go on any ground, but on good ground two miles is less of a stamina test. He is a gorgeous horse – he has a great temperament and is very genuine.
“That (Altior not running over two miles) was part of the reason we have gone two miles, as it is an easier division than it was last season at the moment.
“He had a fantastic season last season and is only six. I hope he can win a few more yet.”
He added: “He’s entered (in the Ladbrokes King George VI Chase), so it’s not completely written off, but I would think not.
“We had long discussions about that three-mile entry and one of the reasons we came here is that the two-mile division looks weaker, except perhaps for the Willie Mullins horse Chacun Pour Soi.
“He’d be the main one probably.”