Alan Crowhurst (Getty Images)
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Defi Du Seuil: won seven Grade 1s
Alan Crowhurst (Getty Images)
By James Stevens
Fans’ Favourites is a weekly feature in the Racing Post Weekender in which we talk to those closest to racing’s most popular horses and find out why they tug on our heartstrings. This week’s subject: Defi Du Seuil
In a training career that has spanned almost 40 years, no Philip Hobbs-trained horse has been able to match the Grade 1 tally of Defi Du Seuil. From a top-class juvenile to an outstanding chaser, there were flashes of pure brilliance mixed with moments of doubt across a career featuring many memorable days.
The son of Voix Du Nord arrived at Hobbs’s Somerset base with the reputation that he could just be a little special. He was bought privately by JP McManus following a comprehensive victory in a bumper at Lyon Parilly. He officially struck by seven and a half lengths, a winning margin his breeder and former French champion jockey Pierre Charles-Boudot knew would ensure he was an extremely valuable commodity.
It did not take long for his form to match the reputation. In October 2016 he defied slim odds to strike at Ffos Las and he would follow up that smooth victory with successive victories at Cheltenham. Both were smooth, confident performances that would ensure he would be odds-on for a first shot at a Grade 1.
That came in the 2016 Finale Juvenile Hurdle at Chepstow. Just four runners took him on and it was a real chance for a statement with the all-encompassing Triumph Hurdle in the sight. A cool Richard Johnson kept his midfield position and on the swing for home allowed the brilliance of his mount to shine. Simply steered to victory, he won effortlessly by 13 lengths. Suddenly, a festival contender became a festival banker.
A thrilled Johnson said he was “pleasantly surprised” by the breathtaking performance. The trainer had mixed feelings.
Speaking at Chepstow, he said: “We’ve had some very good juvenile hurdlers in the past but this horse is right up there with them. He was very impressive and the only minus was his jumping up the home straight, which was appalling. It’s something which we might have to work on, but all in all it was a great performance.”
title=”Defi Du Seuil and Richard Johnson celebrate their Triumph Hurdle success at Cheltenham in 2017″
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Defi Du Seuil and Richard Johnson celebrate their Triumph Hurdle success at Cheltenham in 2017
The work on his jumping proved to have helped as he teed up a Cheltenham bid with a first course win, and at odds of 5-2 he arrived at the festival as the one to beat. He was propelled into the deeper waters, with some fearing he would sink, but he rose to the occasion to produce a magical victory.
In a textbook manner of how a festival race should be won, the panning camera caught a motionless green and gold Johnson at the top of the hill as the rivals around him toiled. He smoothly powered to the front to cap the perfect season.
“I remember thinking Richard had got to the front plenty soon enough,” joked Hobbs, reflecting on the day six years on. “That was always a bit of a concern but it all worked out in the end. It was a great win and a relief he did it having been so good all through the winter.”
A month later a third Grade 1 victory was added at Aintree with a similarly comfortable victory in the Anniversary 4-Y-O Juvenile Hurdle and everything was focused on the following season’s Champion Hurdle.
Many thought it would be written in the stars, 15 years on from Hobbs’s legend Rooster Booster’s win, yet the season would ultimately prove a disastrous one. On his first start in November in Ascot’s Coral Hurdle he beat just one rival home and finished almost 18 lengths behind the winner Lil Rockerfeller. It was a tricky year for Hobbs who had a virus in his stable which Defi Du Seuil was affected by, but a second start would be just as disappointing.
While attention was on Faugheen, who was turned over at odds-on in the Irish Champion Hurdle, back in a moderate seventh was Defi Du Seuil. A Champion Hurdle dream was over, and he was finished for the season.
“It was all disappointing looking back, he only ran twice. It was bloody awful to be completely honest. There was no standout reason, things just didn’t happen,” reflects Hobbs. “The important thing was just not to run him so he could be better the following season.”
He was given time and a new challenge in chasing for the 2018-19 campaign and had connections once again excited. Hobbs described his schooling as “fabulous” and said he came back from a break a “different horse”.
While the first run did not go to plan, it was a triumph in one of the hottest novice races Exeter may have ever staged which would ignite the fire in this once mesmerising prospect. Like in his juvenile days, he simply outclassed his rivals from a prominent position. The horses he beat that day included an unlucky Topofthegame and Black Op.
title=”Defi Du Seuil: won the JLT Novices’ Chase under Barry Geraghty”
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Defi Du Seuil: won the JLT Novices’ Chase under Barry Geraghty
Hobbs was left “over the moon” by the result and pitched Defi Du Seuil back into the big time in the Dipper at Cheltenham. Just four runners turned up, but all with some top-class form in the book. Defi travelled with his exuberance and appeared to lay a marker down when jumping clear at the last, yet a storming finish from Lostintranslation denied him a dream Cheltenham comeback at the line.
Revenge would have to come at Sandown, albeit ironically as the favourite for the 2019 Scilly Isles Novices’ Chase was indeed called Vinndication. The Railway Fences made this a fascinating jumping heat before it was Lostintranslation who made the first move, as he arrived at the last in the front. Barry Geraghty instead was going for payback on Defi Du Seuil and the gallant six-year-old powered in front at the line. The scores were settled.
A third and final battle would come at the greatest setting of them all, in the JLT Novices’ Chase at the Cheltenham Festival. “We won where it mattered,” reflects Hobbs on another excellent day.
Once again Geraghty occupied the stalking position and began his attack at the final flight before prevailing in the final few stages. A thrilled Geraghty said he felt Defi Du Seuil “could win at any trip” and Hobbs hailed an “amazing horse” on a day which couldn’t have “gone better”.
The superb Chacun Pour Soi proved a bridge too far at the end of a long novice season, yet two years on from his Triumph brilliance it was clear this super six-year-old had the attitude, toughness and jumping skill to match his abundance of talent. His British domination was about to start.
A future direction was the one question mark but it was taking advantage of his raw talent at two miles that Hobbs felt was best to exploit. He tested his credentials at the two-mile trip on the return to Cheltenham in the 2019 Shloer Chase and produced a professional display to see off Politologue, who was second to Altior in the previous year’s Champion Chase.
That same Altior had been veered away from the top two-mile chases but Defi Du Seuil ensured there was still a top-level presence and Nicky Henderson’s marvellous star was not needed as the Tingle Creek proved to be a thriller just a month later at Sandown.
Un De Sceaux, the old pro, was in town but the market was marginally in favour of the young pretender. The pair matched each other throughout the affair and endured a hardy battle up the stamina-sapping climb to the finish. Defi Du Seuil was the one finding more to come out on top in a classic.
A delighted Geraghty said after the race: “He pinged the last and I was committed then. He just pulled up in the last 50 yards but he’s a class act and it’s a great race to win. He’s not the biggest in the world but he’s a terrier and a dream to ride.”
He had now replaced sparring partners, from Losintranslation to the imperious Un De Sceaux, and once again repeated the victory in Ascot’s Victor Chandler Chase, this time extending his advantage to just shy of three lengths. It was a success that established him as a legitimate rival to the elite pair Altior and Chacun Pour Soi in the Champion Chase.
Edward Whitaker (racingpost.com/photos)
title=”Defi Du Seuil is clear of Un De Sceaux in the 2020 Clarence House Chase”
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Defi Du Seuil is clear of Un De Sceaux in the 2020 Clarence House Chase
Edward Whitaker (racingpost.com/photos)