Last updated: 12/31/19 2:24 pm
Trainer Nicky Henderson
Champ defends his undefeated record of fences on a quality card in Cheltenham on New Year’s Day.
Named after the 20-time jockey champion Sir Anthony McCoy, Nicky Henderson’s load has largely lived up to his high reputation so far – winning eight of the 11 career-starting sessions, including two Grade Ones about obstacles.
He has won each of his two starts over fences, both at Newbury – it is good to win the most from Black Op in the second company, despite not always being convincing in the showjumping department and almost running out by passing the elbow .
Frank Berry, race manager of owner JP McManus van Champ, said: “We look forward to leading him. Nicky thinks he’s in good shape, so we’ll see how we proceed.
“It looks warm enough, but we hope for the best.”
Champ’s Grade Two penalty means he has to give 5 pounds to each of his five rivals in the Paddy Power Broken Resolutions Already Dipper Novices’ Chase.
His biggest threat on ratings is the Midnight Shadow, trained by Sue Smith, who is winless after three starts over the bigger obstacles, but his best race to date was when he was closely defeated by Keeper Hill on his last performance in Haydock.
Deyrann De Carjac, Garo De Juilley, Paint The Dream and French Raider Matfog complete the sextet.
Rank two awards are also up for grabs in the Dornan Engineering Reliceel Hurdle, for which Henderson’s favorite is Janika – who returns to hurdles after winning the Haldon Gold Cup in Exeter and finished fourth in Tingle Creek in Sandown.
The Seven Barrows handler also saddles William Henry; Paul Nicholls is represented by Quel Destin, and Roksana by Dan Skelton returns to the scene of her victory in the Mares’ Hurdle at last season’s festival.
Skelton’s assistant Tom Messenger said, “She was a little disappointing in the Coral Hurdle on Ascot last time, but maybe we walked back a little too soon after her first run of the season at Aintree.
“It’s a competitive and open race, and she has a chance. I think she’s a mare coming to herself in the spring.”
Tom George gives the Hurdle hero Summerville Boy from 2018 a confidence-inspiring boost over wood after his heavy fall in the Henry VIII Novices’ Chase in Sandown, while Emitom makes his late return for Warren Greatrex.
The latter won his first five races before chasing after Champ at the beginning of April in the Sefton Novices’ horde in Aintree.
“He recently worked well at Newbury and has been training since then, when he jumped really well, so it’s all systems,” said Greatrex.
“New Year’s Day looks good. It is his first company without a newcomer, and he will have to step up. But his shape looks good and we think he has improved.”
Harry Cobden will become a partner of Quel Destin, and believes the switch to an extended two and a half miles is appropriate after a moderate effort in the Greatwood Handicap Hurdle in November.
“I think he definitely wants this type of travel – and I think he has a high price,” said Nicholls stable jockey.
“It was hard work for him in Greatwood because he had a lot of weight – and although I’m not very good with statistics, I don’t think many four-year-olds would have won that too high a weight or run well with it.
“At that time, our horses ran a little in and out – some ran well and others didn’t. He looks good and starts this race.”
Might Bite crosses obstacles for the first time in almost four years in the Paddy Power 69 Sleeps To Cheltenham Handicap Hurdle.
Henderson’s enigmatic gelding established himself as a top-class pursuer – with four Grade One victories, including success in the King George VI Chase 2017 – before finishing second at Native River in an epic renewal of the Cheltenham Gold Cup in 2018.
Last season, however, he underwent a scorching campaign and when Nico de Boinville, when he returned to Aintree – Henderson last month, ordered him to switch back to obstacles on the day he officially became an 11 – year – old.