Champ has Christmas target at Leopardstown

Nicky Henderson has identified the Savills Chase at Leopardstown as a likely Christmas target for Champ.

Last seen lunging late to claim a third win from four starts over fences in a thrilling renewal of the RSA Insurance Novices’ Chase at the Cheltenham Festival in March, the JP McManus-owned eight-year-old is this season on the Gold Cup trail.

Champ could kick off his campaign at Aintree before a potential Irish trip.

“Champ is not quite as far forward as some,” said Henderson.

“We have just looked at his wind, but that is all sorted now – however, he is a little bit behind the others in the A-squad.

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“I don’t think he will go to Sandown for the intermediate chase, and we aren’t that keen on the idea of the Ladbrokes Trophy at Newbury – and I don’t think Kempton is really his track either.

“The Many Clouds Chase at Aintree is a possibility, and there is a serious chance he could go to Ireland for the Savills Chase at Christmas – that is something we have mulled over.”

Santini (left) chases home Al Boum Photo in the Cheltenham Gold Cup
Santini (left) chases home Al Boum Photo in the Cheltenham Gold Cup (Tim Goode/PA)

Henderson’s other leading Gold Cup contender is Santini, who was narrowly beaten by Al Boum Photo in the blue riband last term.

“We are trying to get Santini ready for the Betfair Chase at Haydock – that is the plan at the moment,” added the champion trainer.

“I don’t think he will go to Kempton for the King George, because when he got beaten in the Feltham the other year I didn’t think it was his track that day.

“Going back to Cheltenham for the Cotswold Chase would be the obvious place for him to go after Christmas. The problem with these big chasers is there aren’t many options for them.”

One of the most exciting additions to the novice chasing division this season will be Supreme Novices’ Hurdle winner Shishkin.

Nicky Henderson and Nico de Boinville with Shishkin
Nicky Henderson and Nico de Boinville with Shishkin (Simon Cooper/PA)

“Shishkin did his first piece of more serious work on Saturday, and it went great,” said Henderson.

“We’ve not schooled him over fences yet, beause we are just waiting for the ground to come right on the grass.

“It was a very easy decision to go chasing with him this season. If you look back at when we had Altior in the same position, that was a decision that was much closer.

“He (Altior) could have won a Champion Hurdle, no doubt about it. But he was a year older than Shishkin – and if we were going to go chasing with him we had to go that year and go for an Arkle, not a Champion Hurdle.

“With Shishkin, his career was always going to be chasing – and he is a big, strong horse built for it.

“In Epatante and Buveur D’Air you have two ready-made Champion Hurdle horses.”

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