Trainer Philip Hobbs will plot a route to the Grand National at Aintree on April 16th for Rock The Kasbah following the eight-year-old’s victory in the Grade Three £60,000 three-mile, three-furlong BetVictor.com Handicap Chase.
Ridden by champion jockey Richard Johnson, Rock The Kasbah swept past long-time leader and top-weight Coneygree to win by a length and a quarter from Royal Vacation, with former Magners Cheltenham Gold Cup winner Coneygree five lengths further back in third.
Hobbs and Johnson won this race in 2015 with Sausalito Sunrise who, like Rock The Kasbah, was owned by Diana Whateley.
Hobbs said: “His jumping was fantastic which is always a great plus, especially around here, and he kept on really well.
“He always seems to run well at Chepstow and it was disappointing [he was sixth behind The Young Master on October 13th], although the race has worked out really well since. Maybe, as he has got older, he has needed the run but he was alright today.
“If you keep on asking him at his fences, he will keep coming up. Sometimes, he hits a flat spot in his races and loses ground at the wrong time but he didn’t do that today.
“The main thing, which we have talked about for some time, is that we have the Grand National in mind. What we do before then I really don’t know – maybe ideally the Becher Chase, but he wouldn’t want to go there if the ground was very, very soft. He is in the Ladbrokes Trophy [at Newbury] with a small penalty, which is tempting, but I don’t suppose we will be doing that.
“He’s better on better ground and he wants a long trip.”
Britain’s champion Jump jockey Richard Johnson steered the Philip Hobbs-trained Rock The Kasbah to success in the £60,000 BetVictor.com Handicap Chase.
He travelled well throughout the extended three mile and three furlong event and after a fine leap at the last, ran on strongly to score by a length and a quarter from Colin Tizzard’s Royal Vacation, with top-weight Coneygree five lengths back in third.
Johnson said: “Rock The Kasbah has been a fantastic horse and, to be fair, he only had three runs last year. He won, was second at Sandown and the one run on very soft ground at Haydock, when he disappointed.
“He has done very little wrong in his life and it was a good run at Chepstow. He probably came on a bit for that and it’s nice for him to come here today and win like he did.
“I knew that he stays but you don’t really want to be on your own for too long. I thought that we would be upsides Coneygree until at least the last but, when I was on my going to the last, you hope that they don’t get too lonely on their own.
“Rock The Kasbah has responded every time and deserved that. His run at Sandown last season was fantastic and you felt a bit sorry that he had such a quiet year. Philip’s horses are in great order again now and, fingers crossed, we have lots to look forward too.
“If we could have good or good to soft ground, the National would be the ideal race for him. Obviously, the Becher Chase is an option – there is Newbury as well – but, if we could guarantee that the ground is not too soft, Aintree next month might be somewhere to go.”
Rock The Kasbah runs in the colours of Mrs Diana Whateley, who also won this event in 2015 courtesy of Sausalito Sunrise, who was also trained by Hobbs and ridden by Johnson.
Whateley commented: “It’s a long time since we have had a winner in a big race like this over this distance and it’s very, very, very exciting. It’s been a while since we retired some of our good old horses.
“We thought that Rock The Kasbah had something to offer at Sandown Park at the end of the last season and we were very excited with him then, but his Chepstow run wasn’t great, when the ground maybe didn’t suit.”
After Tiger Roll’s comeback yesterday it was the turn of Coneygree today to serve up a treat to racegoers at The November Meeting.
The Mark and Sarah Bradstock-trained 2015 Magners Cheltenham Gold Cup winner has been plagued with injuries, and is now an 11-year-old, but he set out to make all in the £60,000 BetVictor.com Handicap Chase under top-weight, and gave his fans a thrill when running a gallant race to finish third.
He finished one and a quarter lengths and five lengths behind winner Rock The Kasbah and Royal Vacation, who was making a welcome return to form for Colin Tizzard’s stable.
Sean Bowen, who stood in for injured Nico De Boinville and rode Coneygree, said: “He ran a brilliant race, and just proved that despite all the criticism they [the Bradstocks] have had, with people saying he should be retired, he still loves the game. He just got tired from the back of two out, but when one came to beat him for third he battled back. I’m delighted.
“Last season I was asked to ride the horse if Nico couldn’t, and while it’s sad that Nico is out injured, but it was lovely for me to get a ride on the horse.”
Sarah Bradstock was hoarse with shouting for her horse. She said: “He’s incredible – he makes me cry. He has pins in both hocks and suffered a horrible overreach at Wetherby last year which slit half of his foot and really stopped him for the season.
“To begin with [today] I was worried, because he was being hassled by another horse and the ground is plenty quick enough for him, but he got into a rhythm and got better and better. He just loves it. He’s a real proper competitor and wants to be out there beating horses.
“He had every right to get tired because he’s fragile and you wouldn’t want him totally spot on for today, but we’re looking at the King George VI Chase. That was a wonderful place to start.
“That was as emotional as when he came back in after winning the Gold Cup, because we have been down and out with him. Well done to Cheltenham for putting the race on early in the afternoon, because it was the low sun at Wetherby which caused him to make a mistake and suffer the overreach.”