Tag Archive for: Champ

Champ aiming to regain Long Walk crown

Nicky Henderson feels Champ has gone a long way to living up to his name as he goes in search of a second Howden Long Walk Hurdle at Ascot on Saturday.

Owned by JP McManus, the soon-to-be 12-year-old won the race two years ago under Jonjo O’Neill jnr and he has maintained the partnership ever since.

Famously named after former champion jockey AP McCoy, Champ was a dual Grade One-winning novice hurdler as well as winning a Grade One novice chase at Cheltenham, beating Minella Indo and Allaho in dramatic style.

He will be making his first appearance of the season at Ascot but that is by design, with Henderson confident he is at his best fresh.

“He’s actually very good. He’s one of our real friends, he’s been here a long, long time,” Henderson told Sky Sports Racing.

“He’s lived up to his name in a lot of ways and you couldn’t have a nicer horse.

“He’s very laid back at home, he doesn’t show you an awful lot and he loves to be fresh.

“Last year we started at Newbury when he had a fantastic battle with Paisley Park and then came to the Long Walk, but we’ve always thought he’s possibly best first time out, so we kept him back from Newbury to have a crack at this again.

“Last year after the Long Walk we decided not to go to Cheltenham and keep him for Aintree, but it didn’t really work.

“He works with another old friend, On The Blind Side, who ran a fantastic race at Sandown the other day and they do all their work together but you can hardly call it work, they just go through the motions enjoying themselves.”

With fellow veterans Dashel Drasher and Paisley Park in opposition along with some much younger rivals, Henderson is looking forward to the race.

He said: “You are never confident about any of these Grade One races, it’s going to be very competitive and you can be pretty sure it will be a solid gallop with Dashel Drasher there.

“Paisley will be lurking around, one minute you think you’ve got him covered and then he’ll suddenly reappear at the death – it should be good.”

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Champ and Paisley Park on course for Long Walk showdown

Champ is poised to make his reappearance in the Howden Long Walk Hurdle after featuring among the 10 confirmations for this weekend’s Ascot showpiece.

The Nicky Henderson-trained 11-year-old was the Long Walk champion in 2021 which was the last time the race was held at its traditional home of Ascot, but he had to settle for third when the race was rearranged for Kempton’s Boxing Day card 12 months ago.

The Cheltenham Festival scorer was last seen finishing a well-held fifth at Aintree in the spring but is reported to be in good heart ahead of his belated return to the track.

Champ jumping a hurdle at Ascot in 2021
Champ jumping a hurdle at Ascot in 2021 (Nigel French/PA)

“He’s a great old horse, Nicky is happy with him and the plan is, all being well, to go there,” said owner JP McManus’ racing manager Frank Berry.

“He runs well fresh so you would hope he would run well.

“He enjoys Ascot and has run some good races around there and Nicky is happy with him at the minute.”

Last year’s race went to Emma Lavelle’s Paisley Park who has been something of a permanent feature in the Grade One contest in recent years, now seeking a fourth victory.

Paisley Park will bid for a fourth Long Walk Hurdle title
Paisley Park will bid for a fourth Long Walk Hurdle title (John Walton/PA)

That would make the popular 11-year-old the joint most successful horse in the race’s history, tied with the great French raider Baracouda in the record books.

Paisley Park showed the fire still burned brightly when a fast-finishing second to Jeremy Scott’s Stayers’ Hurdle runner-up Dashel Drasher in Newbury’s Long Distance Hurdle and the duo will do battle once again.

Meanwhile, it was Botox Has who got the better of Dashel Drasher at Wetherby before that and he is one of two in the race for Gary Moore alongside the enigmatic Goshen.

Botox Has was on the scoresheet at Wetherby earlier this season
Botox Has was on the scoresheet at Wetherby earlier this season (Nigel French/PA)

Paul Nicholls’ recent course winner Blueking d’Oroux is two from two at Ascot and will step up in trip attempting to continue his fine start to the current campaign, while Dan Skelton’s West Balboa is another on a steep upwards curve and throws her hat into the mix having impressed at Aintree on her return last month.

Marie’s Rock is one of the more notable names missing from the list of possibles, with owners Middleham Park Racing relying on the second Ditcheat candidate, Red Risk.

Fergal O’Brien’s Crambo and Nigel Twiston-Davies’ Gowel Road are the others that remain in contention.

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Lavelle backing Paisley Park to close gap with Flooring Porter

Paisley Park is reported to be in “great order” ahead of a fifth run in the Stayers’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival.

Emma Lavelle’s stable star won the Paddy Power-backed Thursday feature in 2019 and his name was among the 28 possible runners for the contest when the entries were released on Tuesday.

Last seen defying the tight turns of Kempton when landing the rearranged Long Walk Hurdle on Boxing Day, the 11-year-old will attempt to win the Dahlbury Stallions At Chapel Stud Cleeve Hurdle for a fourth time on January 28 as he completes his on-track Festival preparations.

And his trainer is proud to see him still competing at the highest level despite his advancing years.

“It just goes to show that you should never pigeonhole Paisley and I couldn’t have been happier with him on a track (Kempton) that probably doesn’t play to his strengths,” said Lavelle.

“I was very proud that he’s still winning at that level as a 10-year-old.

“Touch wood, he’s in great order – good, fresh and well and he’ll go to the Cleeve Hurdle first and the Stayers’ Hurdle is his big aim as ever. He’ll do one more piece of work on the grass next week (ahead of the Cleeve) but he’s in good form.”

Paisley Park has finished placed behind Gavin Cromwell’s hat-trick seeking Flooring Porter in the past two years, but Lavelle has hopes of a reversal this time.

Jockey Aidan Coleman (right) in the parade ring after winning the Long Walk Hurdle on Paisley Park at Kempton on Boxing Day
Jockey Aidan Coleman (right) in the parade ring after winning the Long Walk Hurdle on Paisley Park at Kempton on Boxing Day (John Walton/PA)

On turning the tables with the defending champion, she continued: “I certainly hope so – I do think so far this year that he has been performing better than last year and if he can keep that up, I’d like to think we’ll be finishing closer or hopefully in front of him.”

The Paddy Power market is dominated by Irish-trained entries with Flooring Porter heading the betting at 5-1 and closely followed by Joseph O’Brien’s Christmas Hurdle scorer Home By The Lee and Willie Mullins’ Klassical Dream.

The latter is one of eight for the Closutton handler with the possible Mullins runners including the Rich Ricci-owned pair of Chacun Pour Soi and Monkfish and last year’s Ballymore winner Sir Gerhard.

Charles Byrnes won the race with Solwhit in 2013 and could be represented by Blazing Khal, while the shortest-priced British-trained entry is Nicky Henderson’s Marie’s Rock, despite last year’s Mares’ Hurdle champion most likely to defend her title over shorter on the Tuesday of the Festival.

However, one whose name was missing from the list of entries is Seven Barrows stablemate Champ, who will bypass Prestbury Park in favour of a trip to Merseyside.

“Champ is on a little break so he won’t be running at Cheltenham,” said Frank Berry, racing manager to owner JP McManus.

“He will be freshened up for Aintree, that is the plan with him.”

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