Jockey Daryl Jacob was full of praise for trainer Alan King after Messire Des Obeaux (8-1) showed plenty of heart to pick up his first victory in more than two years in a pulsating renewal of the Virgin Bet Warwick Castle Handicap Chase at Warwick this afternoon (Saturday 11th February).
The 11 year old has form for ending droughts, having returned after more than 1,000 days off the track to defeat Boodles Cheltenham Gold Cup contender Protektorat in the rescheduled 2021 renewal of the Grade Two Dipper Novices’ Chase at Wincanton.
And while it has not been plain sailing for him since, he travelled well throughout today’s contest in a small but select field - which included the smart handicapper Stolen Silver for Sam Thomas - to win in front of a crowd of 5,369, a record for Kingmaker Chase Day.
It looked as though he would have to settle for second behind the front-running Liverpool Knight for Dan Skelton, but Messire Des Obeaux found plenty to pick up his rival within the shadow of the post – much to the delight of his jockey, Jacob.
He said: “Fair play to Alan King. To get this horse back from the injuries he’s had and the lay-offs he’s had is credit to him - he’s been very patient. It’s nothing to do with me and everything to do with the trainer.
“This horse had lots of potential when he was younger to be right up there. He always gives you so much and I could always feel plenty under the bonnet.
“He’s had his issues and never quite filled the potential he could have done if he’d have been injury free, but even coming back as he did two years ago to win the Grade Two Dipper Novices’ Chase at Wincanton, that was a big day.
“There was no messing about there today, he’s won a really good race.”
Anthony Bromley, Racing Manager for owners Simon Munir and Isaac Souede, would not be drawn on future targets, but hinted that we could see the son of Saddler Maker on Merseyside in the spring.
He said: “He means a lot to everyone at the yard - they’ve really nursed this horse. He’s a bit fragile and even before his novice chase season he’d been off the track for the best part of 1,000 days.
“He’s still got loads of enthusiasm and we still send him down early before his races, just to keep the lid on him. He loves it!
“Kingy has put a lot into this horse, so that meant a lot and it was a big win. There was around £20,000 to the winner there so that pays for around a year of training fees, so it’s a great result.
“He’s going to get hit by the handicapper now because they pulled away from the third, but you can’t plan for this horse. We’ll see how he is in the morning and plan accordingly. We tried three miles as a novice and he didn’t really ever get that, so he’s looking at two and a half miles.
“I’d say the Greatwood Gold Cup at Newbury may come a little too soon for him, but that would be the kind of race we’d look at. We don’t think Cheltenham would suit as he likes flat tracks. Who knows, Aintree may suit him?”
Returning from a shorter break was the Fergal O’Brien-trained Hullnback (2-5 Favourite), who looked well refreshed after 73 days away from the track when an eased down winner of the Virgin Bet Daily Extra Places Novices' Hurdle over two miles.
The six year old was last seen winning in good style at Haydock Park at the end of November and has options in both the SkyBet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle and the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle for Cheltenham-based trained O’Brien – who is yet to have a winner at the Festival.
And while she would not be drawn on specific targets, O’Brien’s partner and assistant trainer Sally Randell was pleased with what she saw from the son of Schiaparelli.
She said: “We wanted to run in a better race but we couldn’t, so we needed to get him out because he’s an absolute handful!
“He’s a thug so we needed a run and he’s done it really impressively. Had he met the last better he wouldn’t have missed a beat, but he didn’t come off the bridle so we’re really pleased.
“I hope he can go to Cheltenham. We’ve had to make a lot of use of him because of the races he’s been in as there hasn’t been a lot of pace. I think a race with more pace would make him even better as he’s having to do everything on his own in front.
“He wants further, but I’d have to go and talk to Paddy (Brennan) and Fergal (O’Brien) about his trip. He’s handling two miles and he’s not even having hard races, so we’ll see.”
Elsewhere on the card, jockey Nico de Boinville reported that the improving Theatre Glory (4-7 Favourite) was better than ever when winning the Listed Virgin Bet Best Odds Daily Warwick Mares' Hurdle in some style.
The Nicky Henderson-trained six year old would need supplementing if she is to run in next month’s Close Brothers Mares’ Hurdle at The Cheltenham Festival, but she is not short of options having been trimmed by bookmakers to odds of 12-1 for the Coral Cup.
And while de Boinville would not be drawn on future plans he did admit he believes there is more to come from his charge.
He said: “I’d say she’s stepped up again today. It was just the way she went through the race. I was trying to look for a lead and there was nobody and she just wanted to get on with things. Every time she saw her hurdle she pricked her ears and couldn’t wait to get at them.
“It’s properly quick ground there today and she loves it. It’s an exciting time for the yard with all these nice mares.
“She’ll definitely benefit from a stronger pace and something just to tow her along, but she’s been well placed throughout her career and it’s not for me to decide where she goes next. She’s grown and matured this year for sure and I think there’s more to come.”