Grand National

Although he hasn’t run a bad race all season, and has often competed against smart opposition, the overwhelming impression left after recent efforts from the Venetia Williams-trained Houblon Des Obeaux is that he is genuine, stays well, but lacks a turn of foot when faced with high-class rivals, writes Elliot Slater.

A horse who looks tailor-made for the John Smith’s Grand National in years to come, the six-year-old was again found wanting at the business end of the contest when finishing an honourable one-and-three-quarter-length runner-up to Rocky Creek in the Grade 2 Sodexho Prestige Reynoldstown Novices Chase at Ascot over three miles.

That performance suggested that he will have no problem coping with an extra mile and is therefore a very interesting contender for the four-mile National Hunt Chase at the forthcoming Cheltenham Festival.

After taking up the running at the fifth from home at Ascot, Houblon Des Obeaux was headed by Rocky Creek before the third last but kept on well without looking as though he was going to peg back the very progressive Paul Nicholls-trained winner.

Since winning his first two starts this season – including the Grade 2 Totepool Rising Stars Novices Chase at Wincanton in November – Williams’ youngster has run the same kind of race time and again, including when an honest three-and-a-quarter-length third to the classy Captain Conan at Sandown last month in the Grade 1 Scilly Isles Novices Chase.

Williams hasn’t yet revealed the target Cheltenham race for the gelded son of Panoramic. However, the fact that he is available at odds Cheltenham of 33/1 for the RSA Chase, but only 16/1 for the National Hunt Chase, indicates that there is a strong feeling that the longer option will play to the obvious strengths of a horse who is clearly all about stamina.