With the closing deadline for the entries to the 2014 Crabbies Grand National closing this afternoon, we've had a chat with trainer Philip Hobbs, to gauge his perspective on the event and who he hopes will finally win him that elusive Grand National win.
Question: You are one of the few trainers to have both ridden in the Grand National and trained runners for it – which in your opinion, is the better of the two, in terms of personal satisfaction and excitement?
PH: Probably the excitement of riding in it but after the race it would be the best placing either riding the horse or training him.
Question: The Grand National course that you rode around looks very different to the course as it stands today – what is your opinion on the debate around trying to make the national course safer and what long-term impact do you think will it have on the race?
PH: I think we should now stand firm with the alterations as they are although a little tinkering may still be required. The fences look the same but are now very different as the spruce knocks off the easyfix belly very easily. I hope there will be no long term impact as it remains the steeplechase which is the best known all round the world.
Question: How far in advance do you plan a route to the Grand National for your horses and do you use specific training measures e.g. reproduction fences in their training?
PH: Nothing at all we only school over regulation fences and up to now have a good record round the fences although of course it would be fantastic to win a National.
Question: Balthazar King is looking particularly good this season and has lot of fans and support – can he win it for you on April 5th 2014?
PH: He would have a good chance if the ground is good but would not run on soft.
Question: Speaking of Balthazar King, have you any more prep runs planned for him before he potentially heads to Aintree?
PH: He would run in the Cross Country race at Cheltenham if the ground is good.
Question: And if he goes to Aintree what type of ground would best suit him i.e. would watering the course, like last year making it good to soft/soft, hamper his chances?
PH: Watering would definitely be detrimental to his chance but they will water to produce ground on the easy side which would be ok but rain would scupper his chance and he wouldn’t run on soft.
Question: You entered three horses in 2013, will it be a similar situation again and if so which of your horses will be your best chance of a winner if it makes the final line-up?
PH: We will enter Balthazar King, Chance Du Roy, Planet of Sound and Quinz. Balthazar King is probably our best chance on Good ground and Chance Du Roy on soft.
Question: Of all the Grand Nationals down through the years what year do you reflect on most fondly or enjoy watching a re-run of?
PH: Red Rum in the 70’s. The King of Aintree
Question: With Cheltenham only around the corner what is your main aim for this year’s festival?
PH: Not sure. The Handicap’s look our best chances maybe Champagne West could be progressive.
Question: What are Garde Le Victoires prospects at Cheltenham in March?
PH: May run in the County Hurdle.
Question: A very tough question but if you had to choose between Captain Chris winning the Gold Cup or Balthazar King winning the Grand National – would you be able to choose?
PH: Captain Chris winning The Gold Cup but he is probably a non-runner as he is better right handed.
I would like to thank Philip Hobbs for taking the time out to answer our questions, particularly as many of them came from our Facebook followers, who like me, love their horse-racing and in particular, the Grand National!