In his latest profile of the leading lights among National Hunt trainers, Russell Smith focuses on the career of Philip Hobbs...
"A dream start saw him strike with his first runner at Devon & Exeter - and now he has more than 2,300 winners under his belt. He has clocked up a century over jumps 11 times, and is firmly on course to make it a dozen this term."
Firmly established among the country's leading trainers for the last 20 years, Philip Hobbs' Cheltenham Festival challengers are always worth close inspection.
With 18 winners at National Hunt racing's showpiece meeting, the Somerset handler has shown time and again he knows what it takes to strike at the highest level.
His Festival tally includes the 2002 Queen Mother Champion Chase with Flagship Uberalles and the Champion Hurdle a year later courtesy of the charismatic grey Rooster Booster.
He will be gunning for further glory next month with the likes of Village Vic, whose four wins this season have been topped off by a front-running double at Prestbury Park, including victory in the Caspian Caviar Gold Cup.
The nine-year-old heads the betting for the Brown Advisory & Merriebelle Plate in which stablemate Champagne West is also prominent in the market. Arkle Trophy hope Garde La Victoire plus handicap hurdlers Rock The Kasbah and Sternrubin are other likely contenders for Hobbs' Sandhill stables, which are based in the village of Bilbrook, near Minehead.
Racing is in the 60-year-old handler's blood having been brought up on the farm owned by his father, Tony, who trained the family's horses under a permit.
Educated at Kings College, Taunton before graduating from Reading University with a BSc honours degree, Hobbs took up showjumping as a junior, competing at Hickstead.
Moving on to become an amateur jockey, he enjoyed success in point-to-points and under National Hunt Rules, before turning professional at the age of 21.
In a 10-year career, he rode 160 winners, including the Midlands Grand National at Uttoxeter in 1985 on Northern Bay for trainer Tom Bill. Hobbs always had it in mind, though, to become a trainer, and in the same year he took out a licence, starting off with six horses which he kept in a cowshed.
A dream start saw him strike with his first runner at Devon & Exeter - and now he has more than 2,300 winners under his belt. He has clocked up a century over jumps 11 times, and is firmly on course to make it a dozen this term.
At the same time his firepower has proved invaluable to Richard Johnson's charge towards a first jockeys' title.
Hobbs' first Cheltenham Festival triumph was a real family affair with Moody Man capturing the 1990 County Hurdle under his brother, Peter.
And with Hobbs's wife, Sarah, playing a big role in the operation, his other notable winners at the four-day jamboree include Captain Chris (2011 Arkle Trophy), One Knight (2003 RSA Chase) and a brace of Triumph Hurdles with Made In Japan in 2004 and Detroit City two years later.
Away from Cheltenham, Hobbs has landed a host of big races including the 2001 Hennessy Gold Cup at Newbury with What's Up Boys, who provided one of his two near-misses in the Grand National when finishing second to Bindaree that same season.
Balthazar King, a dual winner of the Glenfarclas Cross Country Handicap Chase at the Festival, also went agonisingly close in the Aintree marathon when runner-up to Pineau De Re two years ago.
Better fortune came in the 2009 Coral Welsh National at Chepstow, however, when Dream Alliance provided a fairy-tale triumph, while Planet Of Sound plundered the 2010 Punchestown Guinness Gold Cup.
Success has also come on the Flat with a brace of Cesarewitch wins at Newmarket courtesy of Detroit City in 2006 and Big Easy two years ago, while Unleash captured the 2003 Northumberland Plate at Newcastle.
Hobbs drew a blank at last year's Festival, but you can be sure he'll be looking to put that right this time around.
Check out the rest of the series of trainer profiles