Racing: Hobbs primes Booster for Festival double

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The Independent Online

As if it was not difficult enough for a horse to win one race at the Cheltenham Festival, Philip Hobbs yesterday signalled his intention to target the doughty old warrior Rooster Booster at two. If all goes to plan, today week the gallant grey will be allowed a lie-in, after having tried to regain his Champion Hurdle crown on Tuesday and before starting to limber up for the County Hurdle, the meeting's traditional finale.

As if it was not difficult enough for a horse to win one race at the Cheltenham Festival, Philip Hobbs yesterday signalled his intention to target the doughty old warrior Rooster Booster at two. If all goes to plan, today week the gallant grey will be allowed a lie-in, after having tried to regain his Champion Hurdle crown on Tuesday and before starting to limber up for the County Hurdle, the meeting's traditional finale.

Win or lose the big one, only injury or ill-health will stop Rooster Booster's ambitious double. The 11-year-old is notably sound in body and mind and the two races are four days apart this year. "I've said all along that if he was a selling hurdler he'd be running 20 times a season," said Hobbs yesterday, "and if he's OK after Tuesday's race it's likely he'll run in the County. It would be even more on the cards if he happened to win the Champion again, as he wouldn't pick up a penalty."

Though Rooster Booster, who is set to carry top weight in the handicap, has finished second in six of his last eight races he has not won for over a year now and the always realistic Hobbs feels that he will not be breaking that habit against younger legs in six days' time. "It seems likely that, at long last this season, he'll have a truly run race when he steps out for the Champion," he said, "but at his age he's certainly not getting any better, so a place finish rather than winning is what I'm expecting. But having said that he's not shown any signs of deterioration at home and seems to be in the form of his life."

It is common enough for horses to run twice at the same Festival and some have done so with marked success. Only last year, Our Armageddon took the Cathcart Chase two days after pulling up in the Arkle Trophy; in 1999 Generosa (one of four horses to double up that year) won the three and a quarter-mile handicap hurdle and less than 24 hours later finished third, beaten half a length under her win penalty, in the Coral Cup; in 1997 Or Royal won the Arkle Trophy and ran third in the Cathcart; and in 1995 Sound Reveille pulled up in the Arkle and won the Grand Annual Chase. The ultimate double act, though, came from the mighty Flyingbolt in 1966. The day after cantering home by 15 lengths in the Champion Chase, he finished third in the Champion Hurdle.

After pleasing Richard Johnson in his spin on the grass at Hobbs's stables near Minehead, where both the lung-opening slopes that the horses face daily in their exercise and the sea air are so bracing, Rooster Booster joined his Cheltenham-bound colleagues for a parade. Here, he was rather upstaged, verbally at least, by the young upstart Gold Medallist, nominated by their trainer as his best prospect of victory next week.

The classy ex-Flat recruit, who beat Brian Boru in a Group Two at Deauville last August, is unbeaten in his three runs in his new career and is one of the favourites for the Royal & SunAlliance Hurdle. In Hobbs's opinion he is likely to be well suited by the drying ground at Cheltenham. "He's always been a good jumper at home and was brilliant from the word go on his debut," he said of the five-year-old, "and he's been in terrific form since his latest win."

Hobbs also gave favourable mention to six-year-old Chilling Place, 20-1 for the Supreme Novices' Hurdle after a dull run at Sandown in January. "He didn't like the soft ground," he said. "I think he's got a much better chance than the betting suggests. I can see him running a very big race."

Kicking King, second favourite for the Gold Cup until he was ruled out of the Festival by incipient illness early last week, may be ruled back in again. The seven-year-old, who also holds an entry in the two-and-a-half mile Daily Telegraph Trophy, scoped badly eight days ago but appears to have adopted something of a Mark Twain role. His trainer, Tom Taaffe, will be clarifying any exaggerations tomorrow. "Things are looking a bit more upbeat," he said yesterday. "I will be issuing a statement on Thursday, by which time we will be a bit wiser."

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