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Defining return for Des Champs

Sir Des Champs on comeback trail

Sir Des Champs on comeback trail

It’s rare that a listed chase from Thurles would create such a stir, but today’s 12.55 will see the return to action of one of Ireland’s leading staying chasers.

Sir Des Champs has been off the track since running fourth in the Lexus Chase almost two years ago. Beaten by Bobs Worth, First Lieutenant and Rubi Ball on that occasion, nine months earlier he had finished a gallant runner-up in the Gold Cup of 2013, again losing out to Bobs Worth.

There’s little doubt that even at the relatively young age of nine, he will encounter a competition that has moved on somewhat in his absence. Those adversaries of 2013 have all fallen from grace, replaced by younger upwardly-mobile types, including Coneygree, Don Cossack and Djakadam.

Despite all that, if Sir Des Champs does retain his former ability he will still make his presence felt in the top staying chases in Ireland. And with so many resources at their disposal, there’s always the chance of Gigginstown sending him to England in search of a suitable target along with his more favoured ground conditions.

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This afternoon’s event at Thurles is also a starting point for Lyreen Legend, trained by Sandra Hughes and ridden by Barry Geraghty. I have a soft spot for this fella, and am of the opinion that he has been tried over unsuitable trips more often than not. He’s another returning from a spell on the side-lines, and at the age of eight could well have plenty more to offer.

However, he’s no staying chaser in my eyes, and today’s trip is as far as I’d be running him. The Ryanair ought to be his end of season target. Those who doubt my words should watch again the Gold Cup of 2014, where he travelled as well as anything turning for home, before fading out of contention.

These two will be the latest to get their campaigns underway, adding further to the excitement and anticipation of a winter of top class chasing action. Cue Card, Coneygree, Don Cossack and Road To Riches have all whetted the appetite, and on Saturday it will be the turn of Silviniaco Conti and Vautour to make their appearances.

Nicholls’ dual King George winner has also won the Betfair Chase on two occasions and is a short priced favourite to do so again. Whilst at Ascot the eagerly awaited return of Vautour is sure to set the pulses racing. He’s due to run in the Stella Artois 1965 Chase, formerly the Amlin, which on the face of it appears a decent prep for the King George at Christmas. And that is where the two are likely to meet, along with Don Cossack, in what may well be the most thrilling encounter of the season.

Added to these, we are yet to sight either Don Poli or Djakadam, a pair that are impossible to dismiss when looking ahead to the major events throughout the winter.

It’s hard to keep pace at this time of the year. This season, arguably more than any before, has the potential to be one of the greatest ever witnessed by jump racing fans; especially those partial to a staying chase or two. It’s a division jam-packed with talent, both young and old, set to thrill in an unrelenting tsunami of outstanding action. Hold on tight.

It’s ‘Nico’ Time – De Boinville Flying High

Nico with Sprinter Sacre at Cheltenham

Nico with Sprinter Sacre at Cheltenham

Nico de Boinville continues to ride the crest of a wave after a double at Southwell followed on from his stunning weekend at Cheltenham.

Not only is he being given more opportunities on Nicky Henderson’s star performers, but he partners the Gold Cup winner Coneygree and is getting the ‘leg-up’ on a number of smart types for Henderson’s former assistant Ben Pauling, as was the case yesterday.

His winning ride on Sprinter Sacre on Sunday was clearly a thrilling moment for a jockey who has had a long relationship with the former champion two miler. It is Nico that has worked the mighty gelding over the years only then to pass on the reins to stable jock Barry Geraghty on race-day. He did have one spin on the horse at Sandown in April, though Sprinter was clearly still a distance away from his best.

Sunday was oh so different and clearly an emotional experience to have finally partnered the stable star in a Grade 1 event, with the horse in tip top shape and able to do himself justice.

After the win De Boinville said: “He was fantastic and I was lucky I had the thrill of riding him but even watching him must have been something special. He was jumping and travelling like his old self and he did that well in the end, even kicking clear after the last and putting them to the sword. I haven't got a clue what the plans are - I'm just enjoying the moment.”

After spending such a long time in the shadow of Barry Geraghty, it seems that the tide is finally turning for the 26-year-old, and rightly so. He’s certainly served his apprenticeship on exceptionally talented horses. Riding out the likes of Long Run and Sprinter Sacre in their pomp when still in his early 20’s can only have done wonders for the rider’s confidence.

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Not that self-assurance has even appeared an issue for the young jockey. Privately educated, Nico won an Open Scholarship to Bradfield and top marks in three A Levels meant he swept to Newcastle destined for great things. As an actor he had played lead roles in school productions, yet the role he was most desperate to play was that of a professional jockey.

His aunt rode at Badminton and his mother was once part of the British dressage squad. There was always the likelihood that the youngster would be a natural in the saddle. Story has it that he was rising at the trot by the age of two. At nine he became Supreme Champion in the ‘Search for a Star’ class, at the Horse of The Year Show at Wembley. A stint at dressage followed, but the young rider was soon back competing at events and team chases.

In his late teens, during a gap year, De Boinville gained further riding experience with a spell in France working for Richard Gibson. On his return to the UK he was fortunate to get a few rides for his uncle Patrick Chamings and then a couple more for his near neighbour Andrew Balding.

In 2009 he joined Seven Barrows, though progress was slow, and at times the jockey became far from settled. Just a handful of competitive rides in his first few years at the yard had him contemplating heading back to France.

At the time it was his trainer that gave the necessary reassurance. “I said I thought that he was being a bit hasty,” said Henderson. “Of course he was getting frustrated but I had always told him that there could be no promises. And anyway he then got on Petit Robin in a big handicap and kept the ride on him to be second in the Ladbroke at Ascot and fourth in the Betfair at Newbury. From the very beginning you could see he was a natural horseman. He had lovely hands but what was missing was racing experience.”

During those early years at Seven Barrows Barry Geraghty spoke of Nico’s progress and undoubted promise, saying: “I like his attitude when we are schooling together. He is always riding for the horse, not to try and attract attention to himself. He lets the fences come to him and gets the horse to learn to pop. If someone had got excited and put a gun to Sprinter Sacre’s head he could have been a long time learning. Nico was the man who started him.”

Those tough early years of learning his trade, and taking the rare opportunities when they came his way, are now certainly paying dividends. He gave Altior a great ride at Cheltenham and was terrific aboard Bobs Worth at Aintree a few weeks back. Henderson knows that when Geraghty is on duty for JP McManus, he can rely on Nico de Boinville to do the business, under any amount of pressure.

It’s hard to imagine that this winter could top the last, but it just might.

Tidal Bay and Foxrock – Flemensfirth Past and Present

Tidal Bay

Tidal Bay takes Thrilling Lexus

If jump racing fans were asked to list the top-ten staying Read more

Christmas highs and lows for Henderson

Sprinter Sacre - could run again this season

Sprinter Sacre - could run again this season

There are times when racing has a remarkable resemblance to the Budget, when the Chancellor of the Exchequer gives with one hand and then takes away with the other. It probably feels a bit like that at the moment at the seven Barrows stable where Nicky Henderson trains. Read more

Should Invictus be the Hennessy favourite?

Invictus - huge absence to overcome in Hennessy

Invictus - huge absence to overcome in Hennessy

Ever since the entries for the Hennessy Gold Cup were published, a steady flow of money has come in for a horse that last ran in February 2012. Now, Invictus, trained by Alan King, is 7/1 favourite for the race with all major bookmakers. Read more

Haydock plans a stiffer test in Betfair Chase

haydock fenceThe Betfair Chase at Haydock on Saturday will provide a stiffer test than last year for the horses that line up. There were problems then with the portable fences the course now uses, which did not cause much of a jumping challenge.

Kirkland Tellwright acknowledged this when he set out how the course had sought to rectify the problem. He said that last year the wet summer had meant birch in the fences had rotted, making it very weak and easy for the horses to brush through. Additionally, the course had staged an October meeting, transferred permanently to Carlisle from this year, for which the course had been prepared with summer jumpers in mind.

He said, “What was appropriate for those horses to jump was different from what was appropriate for the Betfair Chase horses to jump. We found it difficult to cater for the differing needs.” The move of the October meeting created an opportunity to put things right, although the old fixed drop fences are not making a return.

Tellwright went on, “The (portable) fences have the same framed but we’ve cut them a fraction bigger, not more than an inch and a half, and they are a bit broader across the top. It was an embarrassment last year. There was an occasion in January or February when something just blasted a hole through a fence and stayed up.”

Saturday’s race will be a furlong further than usual, at a distance of 3 miles 1 furlong. This is because there’s drainage work taking place on one section of the course and means that they have to use part of the flat course. Tellwright again: “It’s basically half a furlong a lap further because at the far end of the course they are going round the bottom of the flat bend rather than the jump bend.”

That extra distance won’t be an issue for Gold Cup winners Long Run and Bob’s Worth, but means that Cue Card will be running over a longer distance than he’s tackled before. If your fancy is a horse with three miles at the top end of its stamina range, the longer distance is a factor that might make you think again before putting your money down.

Sprinter Sacre – ready to better Kauto?

Sprinter Sacre - rated within 2lb of Kauto Star

Sprinter Sacre - rated within 2lb of Kauto Star

The publication of the Anglo-Irish National Hunt classifications on 21 May confirmed Bobs Worth, Sprinter Sacre, Big Buck’s, Hurricane Fly, The New One and Simonsig as the top horses across the seven categories. There were no major surprises, and with the exception of top novice chaser Simonsig, all the winners were rated four pounds or more ahead of their nearest rival. Read more

Cheltenham Trainers – The Big Three…

Henderson Nicholls

Who'll Be Top Festival Trainer?

With the Cheltenham Festival this week Andy Newton takes a look at the three big yards - the form they are heading into the four days of top-notch action, plus their Prestbury Park track stats...... Read more

Would you bet on who’ll be favourite in the Gold Cup?

Bobs Worth - favourite to be Gold Cup jolly

Bobs Worth - favourite to be Gold Cup jolly

Are bookmakers getting desperate? I can’t help but ask that question after seeing the latest set of “Cheltenham Specials” on offer from Coral. Read more

Trainer Stats: 11th Dec 2012

Nicholls Needs A Change Of Luck......

Andy Newton’s got six more trainers to look out for this week, plus a high-profile handler that needs a change of luck.... Read more

Changing of the guard

The publication of the Anglo-Irish National Hunt end of season rating on Tuesday saw Kauto Star rated 180, and regain his place as champion staying chaser. His mark was 2lb ahead of Long Run, and 12lbs higher than Gold Cup winner Synchronised and Grand National winner Neptune Collonges. Read more

Henderson stable lad nets £1m gamble

I don’t know how Finian’s Rainbow’s lad slept on Wednesday night. If I had been sitting on his betting slip I don’t think I would have managed a single wink. By the close of racing on Wednesday, the lad, an Irishman in his late 40s, had seen Sprinter Sacre (8/11 in the Arkle), Simonsig (2/1, Neptune Novice Hurdle), Bobs Worth (9/2, RSA Chase) and Finian’s Rainbow (4/1, Champion Chase) go in. Read more

Henderson’s sublime day of record breaking

They say that records are made to be broken, and this week at Cheltenham old ones are being broken and new records set. On Tuesday we had Quevega winning a fourth consecutive Mares Hurdle, and today Alberta's Run attempts to win the Ryanair Chase for the third time in a row. Read more