Judged on what I saw last year, the Nicky Henderson trained Champ has the potential to go right to the top when sent chasing in 2019/20 season and looks a horse to keep firmly onside.
This J P McManus owned seven-year-old, who is named after 20-time champion jump jockey Sir Anthony McCoy, has won six of his nine starts over rules, finishing placed on the three other occasions.
He progressed throughout last season winning a competitive 15-runner handicap at Newbury in fine style before taking the step up into Grade 1 company in his stride and quickening smartly to easily beat Getaway Trump by 2 1/2 lengths in the Challow Hurdle at Newbury.
Champ then ran a cracker when a two length runner-up in the Grade 1 Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle over 2m 5f at the Cheltenham Festival, travelling strongly throughout before being unable to find an extra close home.
The son of King’s Theatre arguably raced a bit too keenly, as he has done on several occasions, but it was still a fine effort in defeat.
Impressive at Aintree
Champ went on to round-off the campaign with an most taking success in the Grade 1 Doom Bar Sefton Novices’ Hurdle at Aintree’s Grand National meeting where he only had to be ridden out by Mark Walsh to readily account for the very smart Emitom by three lengths.
He relished the step up to 3m for the first time that day and there was no disguising the high regard in which Champ is held by Henderson in his post race interview.
The Seven Barrows handler told ITV Racing: “Champ just needs to switch off and the only thing I wanted to do was to find out if he did stay three miles for next year.
“They didn’t go a great gallop, but I thought it would tell us more for next season, when he’ll have to go chasing. He’s starting to live up to his name. He is good, and he just has the most lovely nature and temperament. I’m, not talking about McCoy, by the way. I’m talking about the horse. He’s a lovely horse.”
Asked if he regretted not running Champ over three miles at Cheltenham he replied: “Not really, although I did run the wrong horse in the three-miler as Birchdale certainly should have been in the two-and-a-half miler.
“Maybe I got Cheltenham all wrong. We do get it wrong quite a lot you know, but I got it right this time.”
Walsh Full of Praise
Winning jockey Walsh, who picked up the e ride on Champ following an injury to regular pilot Barry Geraghty, said quick to point out that Champ would come into his own when sent over fences.
He said: “Nicky said to me get him settled and covered up, and everything went to plan. I was a little bit further back than I wanted, but he settled lovely – I gave him a little squeeze going down the back and he lit up with me a bit, but he was fine and I was able to keep my position.
“He winged the third-last, landed in front and it was just a case of getting home. I rode him to get the trip and drop the bridle. It was the one thing Nicky emphasised to me. He’s a big horse, but very nimble on his feet and will make a lovely chaser one day.
“When he goes over fences he will come into his own. They should suit him well.”
McCoy Has Gold Cup Dream
McCoy, who remains closely linked to the J P McManus outfit, could not hide his delight and believes that Champ could develop into a future Cheltenham Gold Cup prospect.
That’s praise indeed and it’s easy to see why as Champ has the size and build to come into his own over the larger obstacles, so whatever he achieved over hurdles was going to be a bonus.
The fact that he stayed three miles so well at this time of his career also augurs well for the future and suggests that as he continues to strengthen up the 3m 2f trip of the Gold Cup should be well within his compass.
Champ will need to learn to relax, but he did so at Aintree and is a big baby who looks sure to develop further mentally as well as physically with his racing.
RSA the Obvious Target
Champ has speed as well as stamina, so it’s no surprise to see him quoted in the ante post betting for three Grade 1 contests at the 2020 Cheltenham Festival over trips of 2m , 2m 4f and 3m.
The three mile option is the RSA Novices’ Chase for which he is currently market leader at a top priced 10/1 with William Hill.
That looks the obvious target and Henderson saddle Bob’s Worth to land the spoils in 2012 before going on to capture the Cheltenham Gold Cup the following year.
Champ has more gears than Bob’s Worth at this stage of his career, so providing everything goes to plan in the build up to the 2020 Cheltenham Festival he is almost certain to go off favourite.
It will be fascinating to see how me takes to chasing and he is one that I am very excited about seeing in action in the 2019/20 season. We could have a real Champ on our hands!