MELISSA JONES: Great success for Gwent trainer

Penhow trainer Robert Stephens had a big winner at Cheltenham at the first attempt and it might be going to the Festival in March. Pictured is his horse Modus. (3239273)

Penhow trainer Robert Stephens had a big winner at Cheltenham at the first attempt and it might be going to the Festival in March. Pictured is Robert with his horse Modus. (3239275)

Penhow trainer Robert Stephens had a big winner at Cheltenham at the first attempt and it might be going to the Festival in March. Pictured is Robert with his horse Modus. (3239289)

First published in Sport
Last updated

THEY looked a little puzzled at his name in the racecard but after five minutes of racing action, the Cheltenham crowd were applauding Robert Stephens' emergence onto the training scene with a rampant winner from his first attempt at the famous track.

Modus impressively splashed his way to victory for Gwent as the gloom descended on New Year's Day, earning quotes of 16-1 for the Festival's Champion Bumper back there in March.

That is now the target for the mud-loving son of Motivator, who made a corner of Gwent very happy at the start of 2014.

Stephens, who trains in Penhow, said: "I knew he would be the ultimate professional, but we didn't know how much the others had improved. It was a bit surreal standing in the winner's enclosure with my first runner. I had two close seconds there as a jockey so it made up for it."

The former conditional for the Philip Hobbs stable only took out a licence a little over six months ago and saddled his first winner, Leader of the Land, in August.

Modus, sent to Stephens by John Deer of Al Kazeem fame, then gave him cause for optimism by landing his first race at Exeter, only a month after arriving at the Gwent yard.

Wednesday's victory, where he stormed clear under a hands and heels ride from an impressed Tom O'Brien, has them dreaming of Festival glory.

Stephens said: "Mr Deer is quite keen to go for the Champion Bumper and he'll go straight there. He will have to step up again but has done all we have asked of him. He has come out of the run really well and he might even like faster ground."

The enlightening tale is an example of few things going to plan in racing, as Modus was originally earmarked for a career on the Flat.

He went into training with Roger Charlton, who trained multiple Group One winner Al Kazeem for Deer, but it was thought he would be better suited by a greater stamina test.

He returned to his birthplace, Chepstow's Oakgrove Stud, when on a visit Deer offered Stephens the chance to train the four year old.

"We thought he would go well at Exeter, have a nice experience and come on for it. He takes a good tug at home on the gallops so going quicker in March might help him," Stephens said.

"This win had given us great confidence we have a nice horse and can get the job done," he added.

Modus is quoted in ante-post lists as fourth favourite for March, a race that has already been won by a Gwent bred horse, Cue Card, in 2010.

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