It has be a decidedly mixed week for Nicky Henderson’s Seven Barrows team but 24 hours on from Sprinter Sacre’s dramatic exit at Kempton Park; Bobs Worth put a big smile back on the Champion Trainer’s face with a famous victory in the Lexus Chase.
With Benefficient an expected absentee, 9 went to post for a genuine Gold Cup trial, which featured not only the first 2 from Cheltenham last March, but also 3 of the first 4 from the RSA Chase, plus the smart First Lieutenant who had run so bravely in this race 12 months ago.
But it was Rubi Ball, Willie Mullins’ French recruit, who had finished second on his 4 previous runs, who cut out much of the running, with the field tightly bunched in behind. As they headed to the second last fence, remarkably, 8 of the runners still held some kind of chance, with only Prince De Beauchene out of contention. At that stage First Lieutenant threw down a significant challenge and between the last 2 fences looked to hold the aces, as Rubi Ball galloped on at once pace and Bobs Worth and Sir Des Champs appeared to be held. Unioniste by this point had also faded along with Lord Windemere and Lyreen Legend.
But there is a long enough run-in after the final fence at Leopardstown and Barry Geraghty began to galvanise the Gold Cup winner who found plenty in response, collaring First Lieutenant and galloping on to record a comfortable length and a half victory.
This was a huge performance from a horse many had written off after his dismal showing in the Betfair Chase but people should remember he had performed poorly at Ascot before winning his RSA Chase a couple of seasons back. Nicky Henderson has publicly stated that Bobs Worth takes a lot out of himself in races, so we would be surprised to see him run again before his Gold Cup defence, where he is now the obvious danger to King George hero Silviniaco Conti.
First Lieutenant ran a brilliant race and was simply beaten by a better horse on the day. He did not seem to have the speed to cope with Cue Card (we half wonder if the latter might even drop back to 2 miles for the Queen Mother Champion Chase now that his old rival Sprinter Sacre appears sidelined for the season) in the Ryanair Chase – and a Gold Cup challenge would not seem unreasonable for Mouse Morris’s admirable warrior. Alternatively, perhaps they might even bypass Cheltenham for races at Aintree (he won the Betfair Bowl last April) and then on to Punchestown.
Rubi Ball was the revelation of this race and held the lead for a lot longer than we expected. With the field bunched until late, it could be argued that he held a soft lead but his resolution and quality cannot be doubted. He has won over much further than 3 miles in France and there will be plenty of options available to Willie Mullins.
Sir Des Champs on the whole jumped much better today but appeared to need the race, fading when the pace became hot over the last 2 fences. He closed a little towards the end and will be mentally better for the run as well as physically so. This will have put him spot on for his defence of the Hennessy Gold Cup back here in February.
The RSA horses from last season did not really play a part in the finish. Much like Mount Benbulben who failed to strike a blow in the King George, they appear at this stage to be a few pounds short of Gold Cup class. Bobs Worth served a timely reminder today that he has that in spades.