With eighteen Festival winners to his name, Philip Hobbs is no stranger to the Cheltenham winning enclosure. Hobbs has a 15% strike rate at the course over the last five seasons and will send a small but select team to this year's Festival. As big as 100/1 to be top trainer, we take a look at Hobbs' most likely runners and hopefully find a couple of winners along the way:
Garde La Victoire - Arkle or JLT Arkle Chase - 20/1 at Paddy Power JLT Novice Chase - 10/1 at Ladbrokes With no entries in the Supreme, there's no better place to start than with the Arkle where Garde La Victoire, arguably Hobbs' most talented chaser going into the Festival, could line up. The team are said to be still undecided as to which race the seven year old will take. He has three wins over two miles from three starts this season including a course and distance success in November. A good hurdler he hasn't the class of race favourite Douvan but he has a good attitude and could make an interesting bet in the market without the favourite. The JLT is still an option and the trainer will have an idea if he can step up in trip.
Champagne West - Ultima Handicap Chase or Ryanair Chase Ultima Handicap Chase - 20/1 at Paddy Power Ryanair Chase - 25/1 at Paddy Power Festival Plate - 20/1 at Paddy Power Entered in three races; two handicaps plus the Ryanair which may make most appeal given it looks a relatively open renewal (if Vautour doesn't run). A good novice but missed the Festival last season through injury and there'll be concerns over his jumping for whoever backs him. Off a mark of around 154 he couldn't be counted out in the handicaps either, the Plate perhaps a preferable trip.
Fingal Bay - Ultima Handicap Chase or Festival Plate Ultima Handicap Chase - 20/1 at Paddy Power Festival Plate - 25/1 at Ladbrokes Winner of the Pertemps two seasons ago, the horse has never really fulfilled his potential but is a consistent sort who could be a decent bet to place wherever he turns up. Fourth in the Hennessy earlier in the season, Festival form is a real positive in big handicaps.
Sausalito Sunrise - Ultima Handicap Chase or Gold Cup* Ultima Handicap Chase - 20/1 at William Hill An interesting runner. Handed top weight in the Festival Handicap Chase, there is talk of the owners supplementing him for the Gold Cup! A course winner earlier in the season he's one to keep an eye on in the betting.
Golden Doyen - Close Bros Novices' Handicap Chase Novices' Handicap Chase - 25/1 at Bet365 NRNB Entered in the novices' handicap chase on day one. Beaten on all three starts this season, although headed by some decent looking sorts. Won a Grade 2 Triumph trial at the track last season before tripping up in the Fred Winter.
Allee Bleue - Coral Cup or County Hurdle or Conditional Jockeys H'cap Hurdle Coral Cup - 33/1 at Paddy Power County Hurdle - 33/1 at Ladbrokes Conditional Jockeys' Handicap Hurdle - 20/1 at Paddy Power This six year old has three entries although will need plenty to come out to get his run. The Conditional Jockeys' race on Friday looks the best bet according to the betting, a winner on his last two starts.
Brother Tedd - Coral Cup or County Hurdle Coral Cup - 33/1 at Paddy Power Fourth in the Lanzarote Hurdle last time out the Coral Cup looks the destination where he's a general 33/1 chance. Winner of a Pertemps qualifier earlier in the season, a return to a sounder surface will be preferential.
Balthazar King - Cross Country Cross Country - 13/2 at Coral A fans favourite, it would be some training effort were Balthazar King even turn up to compete in the Cross Country (twice a winner) let alone win it. Not seen on a course since picking up a bad injury in last year's Grand National, the bookies are obviously keen to keep him on side and it would be interesting to see how he goes off level weights.
St Saviour - Fred Winter Fred Winter - 20/1 at Bet365 NRNB Triumph Hurdle - 40/1 at William Hill Rated 83 on the flat with Andrew Balding and winner of his first two starts over hurdles, both at Ludlow. Stepped up in class last time and got found out a little so you'd think the Fred Winter will be the aim.
Westend Story - Champion Bumper Champion Bumper - 20/1 at William Hill Hobbs picked up the winner of this race in 2011 with Cheltenian and looks to have a lively outsider in the shape of five year old Westend Story. A winner on both starts this season including an 18 lengths success last time at Exeter.
If In Doubt - Pertemps Final Pertemps Final - 12/1 at Bet365 NRNB A race Hobbs won a couple of seasons ago with Fingal Bay, 8yo If In Doubt was ninth in that race but finished fifth in last season's RSA before returning back to hurdles this season. A winner last time out keep an eye out on the betting given he's owned by J P McManus.
Saddlers Encore - Pertemps Final Pertemps Final - 16/1 at Bet Victor Further down the handicap is Saddlers Encore, beaten four and a half lengths by his stablemate earlier in the season but picking up a win last time in a Grade 3 at Sandown last time out. Not many miles on the clock and something to prove going left-handed.
Village Vic - Ryanair Chase Ryanair Chase - 12/1 at Paddy Power Unbeaten in four starts this season including twice here at Cheltenham. If Vautour runs in the Gold Cup the horse has a pretty good shout given he's improved two stone this season and could server it up from the front against plenty of horses with something to prove.
Cheltenian - County Hurdle County Hurdle - 33/1 at Bet365 NRNB Winner of the Bumper here in 2011 and beset with injuries for a couple of years. Pretty high up in the handicap despite just the two wins over hurdles and although Festival form is always a bonus it's difficult to try and make a case for him here.
Mendip Express - Foxhunters Foxhunters - 12/1 at William Hill There'll be plenty of interest in the race this year for very obvious reasons. 10yo Mendip Express has a very decent chance and has won twice this season to qualify for the race. He's won half his races under rules and prolific in point to points winning seven of nine and has plenty of gas in the tank.
Dunraven Storm - Grand Annual Grand Annual - 33/1 at Bet365 NRNB This 11yo has some Cheltenham form having won an Arkle trial here last season but in such a competitive race there's not a massive amount to get excited about his chances here.
Bold Henry - Grand Annual Grand Annual - 25/1 at Bet365 NRNB Another Cheltenham winner but also scored at Sandown early this year before disappointing last time. He'll wear the colours of J P McManus so as always keep an eye on the betting!
Best Bet Garde La Victoire in the Arkle, without Douvan - 7/1 each way with Paddy Power There's a lot to like about Garde La Victoire and the 7/1 about his chances in the Arkle without Douvan looks exceptional each way value.
Dark Horse Village Vic in the Ryanair Chase - 12/1 each way with Bet365 (NRNB) Such are the type of Hobbs entries and the fact you know he'll have them fired up and ready to go for the Festival, it wouldn't be a surprise to see the Minehead based trainer pick up a big priced handicap winner. However, Village Vic has seen some money this week (12/1 in from 16/1) and would like to think he'll go well in a moderate looking Grade 1.