Honest chaser who's won friends in victory and admirers in defeat
After much early promise and a few lean years, Village Vic caught fire last season, winning four on the bounce including the December Gold Cup.
Such is the way of the British public and their love of a plucky loser that it is this winter, with his three placed finishes under big weights in top Cheltenham handicaps, that bold-jumping front-runner Village Vic has established himself as one of the most popular chasers in training. There would be few more resoundingly welcomed winners over the week if he were to land a third course win at Prestbury Park later this month.
Village Vic arrived from points in Ireland in autumn 2011 and after failing to meet his reserve at the Cheltenham sales found his way to Philip Hobbs's Somerset yard. He instantly made an impression with a 14-length win in a Chepstow bumper on Welsh National day.
Alan Peterson, owner It was [bloodstock agent] Aiden Murphy and Philip who brought him to my attention. They both said they liked the look of him and he belonged to a small syndicate, some were willing to sell, others not so keen. Fortunately we made an offer which managed to cut through all that.
Philip Hobbs, trainer We were pleased with everything he'd done before he went to Chepstow, but to be honest we didn't expect him to be quite that impressive. His second run at Newbury was a good one, but the Champion Bumper didn't really work out for him.
Richard Johnson, jockey The first time I rode him was at Newbury, when we were beaten a short head by Shutthefrontdoor. He was obviously a very promising horse, though, and as a novice hurdler the next season he ran in a good race when he finished second to The New One.
Born April 2007
Sire Old Vic
Dam Etoile Margot
Trainer Philip Hobbs
Owner Alan Peterson
Best RPR 164
Defining moment Winning the 2015 Caspian Caviar Gold Cup at Cheltenham
Peterson He finished a mile clear with The New One at Cheltenham, Thomas Crapper was third, and afterwards both Richard and Sam Twiston-Davies jumped off and thought they had been in a proper race. We got a bit excited then.
Johnson He had a few problems and even when he did win his first race over hurdles, in a maiden at Worcester, he was very laboured. We wouldn't have said we were disappointed with him, but we knew there was a better horse underneath.
Hobbs He had quite a few niggly problems as a young horse. We found he had a small tendon strain just after he won at Worcester and that was what kept him off for over a year.
Peterson I was telling Philip recently, he didn't seem to remember, when we went to see him at Worcester. He didn't want the saddle on, he was biting. That wasn't him and I wondered afterwards if that was just his way of telling us he was out of sorts.
I've learned down the years that being patient with these horses is the best way. We had similar problems with Massini's Maguire and Copper Bleu, who were both very talented horses who had similar issues through his career. We gave Village Vic time, and I kept paying the bills. It was Richard who kept me positive about him. Every time I saw him, he'd say 'I still think this lad will do really well once you get him back'.
Village Vic spent 15 months on the sidelines between September 2013 and January 2015. On his return, he made a muted start over fences, winning once from five runs in his novice season. He wasted no time in his second campaign, winning on his reappearance at Wetherby.
Peterson After he won at Wetherby we went to Musselburgh and everybody loved him up there. I watched the race stood beside Peter Scudamore and Lucinda Russell and after he won Scu said: 'He looks pretty tasty!' It was after that we thought we had him back. We took him to Cheltenham for the December Gold Cup, and we thought we had a squeak.
Hobbs We obviously thought he had some sort of chance at Cheltenham, he came there as a progressive horse having won his last two. These races are always really competitive, though, so you're never really confident.
Johnson The best thing I could do on him was not do too much, to be honest. He's a very brave horse but also very intelligent, his jumping is very neat and accurate.
It was all credit to the horse that day. It didn't feel like we were going that quick, and it was one of those races where you pull up afterwards and other jockeys come up to you saying: 'I can't believe you went that quick, that you kept going.' That's the sort of horse he is, he just keeps going and putting other horses under pressure.
After a tame end to last season in the Ryanair and Topham, Village Vic has become a real regular around Cheltenham over the winter. He finished second in the BetVictor, third in the defence of his December Gold Cup and second on New Year's Day, beaten a total of less than five lengths.
Johnson People have warmed to him so much because you can just see that he's giving everything, and as a jockey they're the horses you love to ride the most. It's of great credit to Philip and the team that even though he's ten he's still got that tremendous attitude and keeps coming back for more. Philip's had lots of similar horses down the years, the likes of Fair Along, Menorah and Wishfull Thinking. It's testament to the patience of him and his staff and it's no surprise the public take to them.
Hobbs He's been a great horse for us and, although he's obviously up in the weights now and it's difficult for him off the sort of mark he's on, he keeps putting it in and those horses are always popular. We'll be going back to the festival with him this year. I think we're leaning towards the handicap [Brown Advisory Plate], but the Ryanair could yet cut up, so we'll see how that pans out.
Peterson It's unfortunate that he hasn't won this season but he never gets beat far, and that's part of the problem when it comes to his handicap mark. The BetVictor was a great example, he looked as though Taquin Du Seuil had him well covered but he battled so hard and there was only a neck in it in the end.
I think we might move him up to three miles at some point, but he's obviously good enough at that 2m5f sort of trip for now and that's what we'll run him over at Cheltenham. We've deliberately kept him back since January because he's best fresh and I really want to have another go with him in the Topham at Aintree. If a horse like him isn't made for jumping around there, I don't know who would be.