Racing: Uberalles will fly Festival flag for Hobbs

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The Independent Online

The highest rated chaser in the British Isles was brought out of his box yesterday and placed in front of us with a plain grey wall for backdrop. Flagship Uberalles was paraded face on and then from the side, as if he was being put on police file, but then two weeks today, in the Queen Mother Champion Chase, he will be a very dangerous horse indeed.

When all is right with the eight-year-old he is the most breathtaking sprint vaulter in the land. His co-owner, Mike Krysztofiak, certainly believes in giving as many trainers as possible the opportunity of working with the Flagship. Paul Nicholls and Noel Chance have already had their go and others have also been in the frame.

"We could have had the horse but we decided it would be a clash of personalities with Jim Lewis and Edredon Bleu," Terry Biddlecombe remembers.

"We left a message with the owner that we would have to turn him down and the next day he told us he wasn't going to send him to us anyway. But we got in first." The hot and fast potato is now back in the West Country at Sandhill and under the supervision of Philip Hobbs, for whom this season has been gilded. What's Up Boys in the Hennessy and Gunther McBride in Saturday's Racing Post Chase have formed the bookends for Flagship Uberalles's December success in the Tingle Creek Chase, the first Grade One for his trainer.

Now the rightly titled Flagship leads a possible 15-strong party from Sandhill to the sports at the base of Cleeve Hill. The gelding's breathing problems have apparently been cleared by a soft palate operation and an independent training regime.

Unlike most of his stablemates, Flagship Uberalles does not exercise on the all-weather. He trains on grass in an effort to take the strain from his vulnerable back. Neither will he enter the yard's equine pool, though he is not above wading into the nearby Bristol Channel and breasting the cold waves.

"Flagship Uberalles is ridden two miles to the beach regularly and we think the sea helps the problem he has with his back," Hobbs says. "He's slightly wasted on a muscle on one side so he wears a weighted boot on a hind leg which we hope builds the muscle up and makes his body more even. He's in very good form and I'm very happy with him."

There was the opportunity to meet more celebrities between the intermittently blue skies and showers on a blowy Somerset morning yesterday. There was Gunther McBride himself, a consideration for the National Hunt Handicap Chase, What's Up Boys, Hobbs's first runner in a Gold Cup, and the stable's best outsider of the week, the Pertemps Series Final entry Surprising.

This year's Festival, however, just as the season itself, will be about the final arrival of Philip John Hobbs. The former moderate jockey has proved far more accomplished as a supervisor rather than rider, but has had no easy path since he set out with a licence in 1985. Now as his fingers appear over the cliff near the summit the 46-year-old is enjoying the fruits of his labours.

"We have more realistic chances than ever before at the Festival this year," he says. "The main thing is that over the last few years we have trained a lot of winners. The big races are icing on the cake. As long as you have the volume, then you can hope for the big ones to come along. It's important to have both. The number of winners comes from getting the thing right, while you need a lot of luck to get the right horse on the right day for the big races."