Cotswold date pencilled in for Champ return

Nicky Henderson has confirmed the Cotswold Chase as the likely comeback target for Cheltenham Gold Cup contender Champ.

The JP McManus-owned gelding has not been seen in competitive action since charging home to beat the Irish pair of Minella Indo and Allaho in an epic finish to the RSA Chase at last season’s Cheltenham Festival, with an autumn wind operation delaying his return.

With connections losing the race against time to get him back for the Savills Chase at Leopardstown earlier this week, Henderson admitted options were limited – and even mooted a potential spin over hurdles.

However, the Seven Barrows handler now views the Cotswold Chase as as a suitable starting point for the season, even if it means he could clash with his stablemate Santini, who won the race last year before going on to finish runner-up in the Gold Cup.

Of Champ, Henderson said in his Unibet blog: “I’m pleased to say that he is in excellent form and the obvious race would be the Cotswold Chase at Cheltenham on Festival Trials Day.

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“It might have to be for Santini as well, but we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it, because there’s also the Denman Chase at Newbury in February.

“Champ is coming along great and Nico (de Boinville) had a spin on him on Christmas Eve and he’s been jumping very well.

“There is nothing else before the Cotswold Chase, so I’d imagine he’d have a racecourse gallop beforehand which should put him spot on.”

It was a mixed Christmas period for Henderson, with star novice Shishkin impressing at Kempton, but both Epatante and Altior beaten at the Sunbury venue.

Shishkin is likely to have one more run before heading for the Arkle at Cheltenham, while Henderson feels it would be dangerous to dismiss Altior’s chances of winning a third Queen Mother Champion Chase despite his surprise defeat at the hands of Nube Negra.

Henderson said: “Shishkin has come out of Kempton very well and I’m extremely happy with him.

“I want to give him one more run before the Arkle and it will be in either the Kingmaker at Warwick or Game Spirit at Newbury, but I also have Altior pencilled in for that (Game Spirit).

“Altior is fine and there is nothing else to report except to say he will most certainly not be retired and you didn’t see the real him the other day.

“He’s probably getting to that stage where he may be losing a bit of that speed that has always been so potent, but the way he jumps at home you’d have no reason to think he’s slowing down – he’s still like a rocket.

“I would think there is every possibility that he will be given an entry in the Ryanair Chase, but we haven’t really discussed it and at the moment the Champion Chase remains the goal.”

Henderson had less positive news on exciting novice hurdler Dusart, who looks likely to miss the Cheltenham Festival.

He said: “I’m afraid you won’t be seeing Dusart for quite a while because we’ve had a very unfortunate setback and for the time being we’ll have to consider he is out of action.

“Without going into all the unnecessary gory details, he had an accident at home and is still at the equine hospital, but he’s doing well and will definitely be back, although I cannot say if he will be back this season or not.

“I’ve got to say it’s very doubtful that he will be going to Cheltenham.”

Nicky Henderson mulling hurdles option for Champ

Nicky Henderson could consider running Champ over hurdles due to limited options over fences for his Cheltenham Festival winner.

Henderson had been hoping to run Champ, who won last season’s RSA Chase in dramatic style, in the Savills Chase over Christmas but felt the Leopardstown contest was coming too soon.

With the Cotswold Chase at the end of next month, in which stablemate Santini is also due to run, and the Denman Chase in February the only other suitable races, Henderson may be forced into a return to the smaller obstacles.

“I’ve got work to do. We tended to his wind earlier in the season and that put us back, which is why we are late,” said Henderson.

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“I was trying to get to Ireland, but we were always fighting a bit of a losing battle. We’re nearly there and another fortnight would have done him, but another fortnight takes us nowhere.

“There really are only two races between now and the Gold Cup he can run in – the Cotswold Chase at the Trials Meeting and the Denman Chase at Newbury. They are the only two recognised races for the staying chasers, they are all you can do which is why you’ve got to consider hurdling.

“I don’t particularly want to, especially with Champ as he needs all the experience he can get jumping fences.

“He has been jumping extremely well. We’ve been doing a lot of schooling and he spent a few days with Henrietta Knight doing special exercises and was very good. We’re very pleased with that part of his preparation.”

Buveur D’Air has not been seen since an injury in the Fighting Fifth Hurdle over a year ago
Buveur D’Air has not been seen since an injury in the Fighting Fifth Hurdle over a year ago (PA Wire)

In the same JP McManus ownership, dual champion hurdler Buveur D’Air is well on the road to recovery after an injury limited him to just one start last term.

“The Contenders Hurdle is very much the plan for Buveur D’Air, and I’d really rather one before it. If there was something in the middle of January that would be great,” said Henderson, speaking on a zoom call ahead of Kempton’s Ladbrokes Christmas Festival.

“He’s coming on very well, he worked on Saturday and every day he is getting better. Touch wood, the injury has not held us back, as when we started the season he was lame.

“All has gone very well and the injury has not been any interference. All we do differently is keep him off the all-weather, he does all his work on grass.

“His work has been excellent and we have every hope and ambition we can get to Cheltenham. He’s got to meet Epatante. He’s a two-miler and she’s a two-miler so we are very lucky.

Champ misses Savills Chase

Nicky Henderson has decided against sending his Cheltenham Festival winner Champ to Leopardstown for his first run of the season.

Champ benefited from an inspired ride by Barry Geraghty to win the RSA Chase in March, but has not been seen since.

Henderson had been keen on sending the JP McManus-owned gelding to Ireland for the Savills Chase over Christmas, but he now feels the race will come to soon.

The Seven Barrows handler posted on Twitter: “Unfortunately Champ will not be travelling to @LeopardstownRC over Christmas.

“He is not quite ready to run, so we will have to wait a bit longer for his seasonal debut.

“He has been schooling brilliantly, so we are very excited to see him on a racecourse as soon as we can!”

Champ heads 23 contenders for Savills Chase prize

RSA Chase hero Champ is among 23 entries for the Savills Chase at Leopardstown’s Christmas Festival on December 28.

Nicky Henderson’s eight-year-old snatched victory from the jaws of defeat when nabbing Minella Indo in the dying strides at Cheltenham in March.

He faces a tough test on his first venture out of novice company with his potential rivals including the last two winners of the race – Gordon Elliott’s Delta Work and the Willie Mullins-trained Kemboy.

Elliott also has Presenting Percy, The Storyteller, Battleoverdoyen, Samcro and Shattered Love while Allaho, Acapella Bourgeois and Easy Game are among Mullins’ contingent.

Minella Indo could re-oppose and is part of a strong entry from Henry de Bromhead’s stable.

Sire De Berlais, dual winner of Cheltenham’s Pertemps Hurdle Final, may go for Grade One glory in the Ladbrokes Christmas Hurdle.

Elliott’s charge made a successful reappearance in the Grade Two Lismullen Hurdle at Navan.

Among other big names are Fury Road, Bacardys, Bachasson, Thomas Darby, The Worlds End and Ronald Pump for Matthew Smith.

Envoi Allen and Asterion Forlonge are among 19 entries for the Racing Post Novice Chase on December 26.

Both horses also have the option of the Matchbook Betting Exchange Faugheen Novice Chase at Limerick the same day.

The De Bromhead-trained A Plus Tard and Chacun Pour Soi were first and second in the Paddy’s Rewards Club Chase in 2019 and could have a re-match on December 27 after 17 were entered.

Put The Kettle On, Notebook and Samcro are also in the mix.

Star mare Honeysuckle, winner of the PCI Irish Champion Hurdle over this course and distance in February, is among the 11 horses entered for the Grade One Matheson Hurdle on December 29, the last of four days of the meeting.

Aspire Tower, Abacadabras, Saint Roi and Sharjah, winner of this race for the last two years, are in the list as is the Tom Symonds-trained Song For Someone following his victory in Ascot’s Coral Hurdle.

Envoi Allen is also among 23 entries for the Neville Hotels Novice Chase as Gordon Elliott seeks a fourth consecutive win and fifth in total in this Grade One.

Champ likely to make Savills Chase reappearance

Nicky Henderson has confirmed the Savills Chase at Leopardstown as the likely comeback target for Champ.

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

Champ holds an entry in the Ladbrokes King George VI Chase on Boxing Day, but Henderson is unsure the right-handed speed test that Kempton represents will suit – and views the Savills Chase in Ireland two days later as a suitable alternative.

“Champ is very, very good and building up well,” said Henderson.

“We had to stop and have a wind operation, but I’m glad we got that done and he’s done a bit of schooling – he went over to Henrietta Knight’s for a few days. His jumping could tidy up a little bit.

“He’s in the King George, but I’m mindful with him and Santini that I don’t think Kempton is a good track for either of them.

“Champ would tend to go out to his left a little bit an I think there’s every possibility he might be going to Ireland – it would be the obvious race for him, possibly.

Nicky Henderson with Altior
Nicky Henderson with Altior (Bradley Collyer/PA)

“He is a very good horse, Champ. He lost his place at the second-last in the RSA and I just wonder if that wind issue just caused him to drop off them for a moment, then he cleared it and got going in that rather miraculous finish.”

Last season’s Gold Cup runner-up Santini is expected to return in the Many Clouds Chase at Aintree on December 5, the same day on which Altior is due to make his reappearance in the Tingle Creek at Sandown.

Of Altior, the trainer added: “He’s all set for Sandown on Saturday week, absolutely.

“He’s in really good form, he galloped at Newbury last week and was good. He schooled the other day – frightening.”

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.”