Emotional Hobbs sees Defi deliver a virtuoso display under Johnson
Philip Hobbs is not a man known for public displays of emotion. In victory and defeat he is invariably the same: composed, reserved and far from showy.
Yet in the moments that followed Defi Du Seuil's scintillating JCB Triumph Hurdle tour de force, you could see what it meant to him. Like the performance of his horse, it was a special sight to see.
There were, unquestionably, tears in his eyes.
Those eyes had perhaps expected to witness a wide-margin rout but such expectation brings with it pressure. As that pressure was lifted, all the weight that must have been on his shoulders also rose, leaving an always excellent, always dignified trainer to enjoy a deeply satisfying moment.
It was at Ffos Las in October that Defi Du Seuil, a winner of one his two starts in France, made a winning British debut in the colours of JP McManus. In total he came to the juveniles' championship with six consecutive victories to his name, three of them achieved at Cheltenham.
He was unquestionably the one to beat and he beat them hollow, cruising through the contest before surging five lengths clear up the straight in a manner reminiscent of Hobbs's greatest horse, 2003 Champion Hurdle hero Rooster Booster.
"It's just relief – absolutely it is," said Hobbs. "When you have a horse who keeps on winning, you know that when he gets beat the bubble is burst. He had also been favourite all winter – but he was even better today. It's great when it goes right."
This went very right for Richard Johnson, the obvious deputy for McManus's sidelined retained jockey Barry Geraghty. Johnson had been in the saddle that afternoon at Ffos Las and his place on Defi Du Seuil's back ensured this was a real team triumph for the Hobbs camp, previously successful in the race with Made In Japan and Detroit City.
"It was a dream to be travelling that well two out," said Johnson. "I was a passenger all the way, to be honest. I think a few people thought he needed very soft ground but he felt fantastic on that ground today. I think he'll improve with time as well."
Those behind the winner will need to improve enormously to defeat him, but Ireland's Mega Fortune and Bapaume ran fine races in second and third, with Bapaume's trainer Willie Mullins saying: "He just flicked the last, which didn't help him, but the winner looks like a very good horse."
That's exactly what he is, which is why he received quotes ranging from 11-2 to 10-1 for next year's Stan James Champion Hurdle, whose latest running was captured by the McManus-owned Buveur D'Air. There is, though, a clear chance he could next season be racing over fences.
"You shouldn't get too bullish too early, but he has a fantastic attitude, he's very sound and he has fantastic ability," said Hobbs.
"I think he could come to the festival next year on the Tuesday and run in the Champion Hurdle, but he could win an Arkle as well. We haven't schooled him yet but he would be mustard."
Asked about that possibility, Johnson said simply: "If Barry wants to ride something else I'll be delighted."
Likewise, McManus played a nicely straight bat, limiting his thoughts on the subject to: "Today's not the day."
For the winning trainer this was a huge day. Compared to some of his rivals, Hobbs is not fortunate enough to be regularly showered with stars, but when he gets a star he proves more than worthy of the responsibility. To widespread delight, we saw that again here.