VILLAGE Vic will have to defy a career-high mark if he is to become only the second horse to record back-to-back victories in the Caspian Caviar Gold Cup at Cheltenham.
Philip Hobbs’s charge took this prize 12 months ago off bottom weight of 10st with a rating of 136. Now he is up to a mark of 158 and is burdened with the steadier of 11st 12lb.
The handicapper raised him 3lb for a brave effort in the BetVictor Gold Cup here last month when he just failed by a neck to hold Taquin Du Seuil after trying to make all the running.
However, champion jockey Richard Johnson has always held Village Vic in high regard since winning the Bobby Renton Chase at Wetherby in October 2015 and Hobbs believes last month’s run will put the chaser right for today’s test.
“He ran great at Cheltenham in the BetVictor and was just run out of it on the run-in,” he said. “That was his first run of the season and hopefully he might have improved a bit for it. He has been in good form since.
“The ground being good is a bit of an unknown as we know he goes well on soft. Maybe he won’t be quite so effective on good, but that is only a maybe. We will just take our chance and go from there. He went up 3lb for the last run so hopefully it won’t be beyond him.”
The Paul Nicholls-trained pair of Bouvreuil and Frodon were fifth and last of the 10 finishers respectively in the BetVictor.
The champion trainer is seeking a fourth win in the last 10 years and admits he is struggling to split the pair.
“There’s nothing between the two of them,” he said.
Ryan Hatch misses out on the plum ride on The New One in the StanJames.com International Hurdle at Cheltenham after being hurt yesterday.
Richard Johnson now takes the mount on the Nigel Twiston-Davies-trained gelding, who is seeking a hat-trick of wins in the Grade Two contest.
Hatch was taken to hospital for assessment on a possible sternum injury following a tumble from Cogry in the Unicoin Group Handicap Chase.
It is bad luck on Hatch as he would have partnered The New One on what should have been his chasing debut at Exeter a week ago, only for the meeting to be abandoned.
It was only then Twiston-Davies decided on a change of plan for The New One, who has been successful five times in total at Cheltenham and was fourth to Annie Power in the Champion Hurdle in March.
As for the Unicoin Chase, it was won by Theatre Guide for the seemingly unstoppable Colin Tizzard yard. Runner-up at Wetherby’s Charlie Hall meeting, the Welsh National on December 27 is the likely target. “He is a thorough stayer and that (Welsh National) looks the obvious race for him,” said the trainer.