For once, it proved as simple as basic mathematics to find the winner of the day’s big race as Farmer Jack was 11lb well-in with his rivals at these weights after winning at Newbury a fortnight ago.
He was always travelling smoothly just behind the pacesetting Banker Count, who made a mistake at the second-last fence and started to tire.
Farmer Jack joined the leader, chased by Iznogoud, as favourite Colonel Frank started to drop out of contention on the rain-softened ground, eventually falling.
Sensing victory in the race again, Johnson kicked on and Farmer Jack pulled clear, leaving Iznogoud and the weakening front-runner to battle it out for the runner-up spot.
Jumping the last as well as any other fence in the race, Farmer Jack passed the post six lengths clear, with 20-1 shot Iznogoud just pinching the runner-up spot ahead of Banker Count (12-1) and the staying-on Tikram (14-1).
Everybody else might be talking about the Cheltenham Festival at present, but Hobbs’s post-race comments suggested that bookmakers’ quotes for the Daily Telegraph Chase might be wasted.
Instead, Farmer Jack is more likely to be trained for the John Smith’s Grand National meeting at Aintree, where the track is considered more likely to suit.
Hobbs said: “The handicapper said he was very well in today and really he won as he was supposed to on the figures. There was a doubt about him staying the three miles – but not any more.
“Cheltenham doesn’t suit him ideally. He’s run well there, but I don’t think it’s his track, and at this stage I would say he’s more likely to wait for Aintree.
“He has got the option of either the two-and-a-half or three-mile race there (Melling Chase or Betfair Bowl).
“Basically I wouldn’t want to run him at Cheltenham and risk messing him up for Aintree.
“When he travels well and jumps well like he did today, then he is very good. Last year he got a knock and we were always being a bit careful with him afterwards, but this year we have just got him absolutely right.”
Johnson added: “It was a good performance under top weight, especially with the ground.
“He’s such a tough horse and he gives it absolutely everything. We had to take a bit of a lead today, but he’s done really well and still seems to be improving.”
Farmer Jack’s victory propelled him into fourth place in the BHB Order Of Merit, but he has work to do if he is to catch up Crystal D’Ainay, whose victory in the betfair.com Rendlesham Hurdle moved him clear in the race for the £200,000 first prize.
Connections of the rejuvenated Banker Count are looking forward to dropping him back in trip for the Mildmay Of Flete Chase at Cheltenham after he turned in a heroic effort to finish third, despite his stamina giving out.
“Apart from one mistake his jumping was outstanding, and he is just at the top of his game at the moment,” said trainer Venetia Williams.
“What’s particularly satisfying is that he has had problems staying sound throughout his life but now, at the age of 13, everything seems to be coming together.
“He’s entered in the Mildmay Of Flete and we’ll see how he fits into the weights there.”
Fourth-home Tikram and runner-up Iznogoud are more likely to run in the three-mile William Hill Handicap Chase.
“He was staying on again at the finish having looked like he was going to be well beaten on the home turn, and Tony (McCoy) gave him a great ride,” said Tikram’s owner Rodger Sargent.
“I’ve already asked Tony to ride him again at Cheltenham.”
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