Rose Dobbin confirms her pre-season nerves are beginning to ease – thanks to the winning exploits of Jonniesofa and Le Cheval Noir.
This month’s victory for Jonniesofa at Ayr came after a 672-day lay-off for the talented but injury-plagued chaser, who will run next in Newcastle’s Rehearsal Chase as long as the ground is soft enough.
Promising five-year-old Le Cheval Noir was also scoring after a long break when he provided the Northumberland stable’s fifth winner from 32 runners by doubling his unbeaten career tally in a Kelso bumper, following his Irish point-to-point debut.
Both therefore represent highly effective training performances, and signpost a campaign ahead which appears to be a world away from Dobbin’s travails last season.
Her string was so badly out of form by the end of 2018-19 that the only answer was to halt operations in April to rid the yard of a virus.
She is able to plan ahead with confidence again, however.
“We’re very happy,” said Dobbin.
“It was quite a nervous autumn, to see what form they all came out in.
“But on the whole, most of them have run really well, so I couldn’t be happier.
“The nerves have definitely been relieved by a few winners.”
Among them, Jonniesofa is perhaps the brightest yet most fragile star – but the nine-year-old has recovered encouragingly from the exertions which powered him to a 16-length victory at Ayr, and the hope is he will bid for his sixth win from just 11 rules starts at the end of this month.
“He’s come back in good order, and we’re very happy with him,” said Dobbin.
“I think we’re probably going to run him in the Rehearsal Chase at Newcastle.”
It has been a long and tortuous road for horse and trainer since injury first struck at the 2016 Cheltenham Festival.
Dobbin said: “He injured himself in the Albert Bartlett at Cheltenham a few years ago.
“He came back from it, then it went again a couple of years after that Haydock race (in December 2017).
“It’s a suspensory ligament – which are pretty prone to re-injuring easily – so we just have to keep our fingers crossed that we can keep him in one piece for the whole of the season.
“Soft ground is crucial, because he does just hit the ground very hard – and I think that was the problem at Cheltenham.
“It was lovely, safe, good-to-soft ground – but obviously it wasn’t soft enough for him.”
Newcastle ought to prove the right venue for him then?
“We hope so, yes,” said Dobbin.
“But he wouldn’t run if it wasn’t soft ground. He’s just a real, genuine, high-actioned horse.”
Le Cheval Noir should also be out again soon, with a hurdles debut beckoning.
“I was absolutely chuffed with his run,” said his trainer.
“He looked really gutsy, as he did in his point-to-point apparently. He was very tough that day (as well).
“He was very difficult to train last year, but he’s come back home a different horse now and looks a really nice prospect.
“He looked a million dollars at Kelso, and then his run matched that.”
Le Cheval Noir has recovered well too.
Dobbin added: “We’re going to go over hurdles now. I haven’t found a novice for him yet, but he’ll go straight over hurdles – he’s a very good jumper.
“He actually ate up after his bumper – which surprised us. He’d be the type that might not have eaten up, so we’ll just see how he is over the next couple of weeks.
“If he keeps some condition on him, there’d be no reason to hang around for too long (before his hurdles debut).”
It was only after the son of Le Fou had arrived in her keeping 18 months ago that Dobbin noticed he is a nephew of Barton – a prolific winner of yesteryear, on whom her husband Tony scored seven times as a jockey, including a Grade One hurdles defeat of subsequent Gold Cup great Best Mate.
She said: “It’s just a coincidence, a happy coincidence – we were very happy to see that name in his pedigree.
“He’ll be a yard favourite if he wins us lots of races – and going by Saturday’s performance, we think he will.
“That’s the dream.”
Le Cheval Noir’s progress mirrors that of the resurgent Hazelrigg yard.
“We couldn’t do much with him last year, but we hope he’s going to make up for lost time this year,” said Dobbin.