Hobbs, Ascot and the Defi dilemma

Punters weighing up their options in Saturday’s Chanelle Pharma 1965 Chase at Ascot face a dilemma, for the Defi Du Seuil of old might have been expected to make short work of his five rivals but he is a risky proposition on the most recent racecourse evidence.

With no fewer than seven Grade One wins to his name, Defi Du Seuil would be a worthy addition to a roll of honour which already bears the names of Master Minded, Al Ferof, Vautour, Politologue and Cyrname, but he was bitterly disappointing in the 2020 Queen Mother Champion Chase, and he appeared to have lost his way badly in two starts since.

However, he had wind surgery while spending the summer with owner JP McManus in Ireland and he is still only eight, so there’s plenty of time for a revival. His trainer Philip Hobbs is unsure of what to expect, but he’s making positive noises.

Hobbs, who won the 1965 Chase with Captain Chris in 2012 and with Royal Regatta in 2016, confirmed: “He had a breathing operation for the first time when he was back at Martinstown, where he goes every summer.

“That might have been part of the issue, as there was a bit of a doubt about his breathing, and we’ll find out what benefit it’s had on Saturday. But he’s in good form and all has gone well with him.”

Defi Du Seuil will be stepping back up in distance after two-mile defeats of Un De Sceaux in the Tingle Creek Chase and the Clarence House two seasons ago, but that’s not a worry as he was a top-class winner over Saturday’s trip as a novice.

Trainer Philip Hobbs

Trainer Philip Hobbs is hoping a wind operation can help improve Defi Du Seuil’s performances

Hobbs said: “Last season we decided to stick to two miles as it looked to be the easier division, but now it definitely doesn’t. I don’t think going back up in trip will be any issue as I’ve always felt he could be effective over any distance.

“Most horses who win the Triumph Hurdle end up wanting three miles, and he won over two-and-a-half miles round Cheltenham as a novice in the JLT, having already won over the trip at Sandown.”

Defi Du Seuil will also have a new rider in Tom O’Brien after Richard Johnson followed Barry Geraghty into retirement, but that’s not a concern either – while it will be O’Brien’s first time on board in public, he’s ridden him at home and knows him well.

Defi Du Seuil has won six times at Cheltenham including in the Shloer Chase

Defi Du Seuil has won six times at Cheltenham including in the Shloer Chase

Saturday’s field also includes old rival Lostintranslation, whom Defi Du Seuil beat twice as a novice and is another on a recovery mission, as well as last year’s winner Dashel Drasher, who has Rex Dingle on board for the first time after Matt Griffiths suffered serious injuries in a car crash.

Master Tommytucker, whom Dashel Drasher beat at Ascot in February, Benny’s King and Pistol Whipped complete a smart field, but Hobbs agrees that a back-to-form Defi Du Seuil might be hard to beat.

“The Defi of old ought to just about win,” he said. “On his current figure of 162 there are a few in the race with similar ratings to him, but Dashel Drasher and Master Tommytucker have to concede him a 6lb penalty, which helps, and he was on 170 briefly two seasons ago.”

Orbys Legend on his way to victory at Sandown in March

Orbys Legend on his way to victory at Sandown in March

Ascot’s 1965 Chase is not the only big pot the stable is chasing on Saturday. Just minutes later, Orby’s Legend, a good winner of last month’s Silver Trophy Hurdle at Chepstow, lines up for the Betfair Exchange Stayers’ Handicap Hurdle at Haydock.

He has been raised 8lb, but he’s unexposed and highly progressive, and Hobbs sounds quite sweet on his chance.

He said: “We decided after Chepstow to wait for this as it’s such a valuable prize.

“I don’t think three miles is any worry whatsoever, particularly now we know that the ground is unlikely to be anywhere near as soft as it can often be at Haydock at this time of year. Ben Jones will ride and it’s a race worth waiting for.”