Nicky Henderson hails Champ’s courage on his comeback in Ascot’s Long Walk Hurdle – with win making him the 4-1 favourite for the Stayers’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival
- Nicky Henderson’s horse, Champ, was victorious Ascot’s Long Walk Hurdle
- The horse is now 4-1 favourite for the Stayers’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival
- Henderson and owner JP McManus believe Champ has ‘had a hard time’ of late
It was only supposed to be a confidence booster after back surgery ahead of a return to steeplechasing but Champ is now 4-1 favourite for the Stayers’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival in March after victory in the Long Walk Hurdle at Ascot.
Trainer Nicky Henderson and owner JP McManus were both reluctant to make instant plans but given that Champ’s jumping has let him down at times over fences it will be a surprise if he is sent back over the bigger obstacles, even though it would be a dream result for the horse named after 20-time champion jockey Sir Anthony McCoy to win the Cheltenham Gold Cup.
Champ’s length-and-three-quarter victory from favourite Thyme Hill with two-time race winner Paisley Park in third was a first at grade one level for his jockey Jonjo O’Neill Jnr.
Jockey Jonjo O’Neill Jnr claimed victory in the Howden Long Walk Hurdle on Saturday
It also completed a topsy-turvy 24 hours for Henderson after Buzz, who had been the ante-post favourite for the Long Walk, fractured his pelvis during a routine work-out on the gallops on Friday morning.
Henderson, who said the early signs in Buzz’s recuperation were positive, added: ‘It has been a very strange 24 hours. This was meant to be about Buzz and whether he stayed three miles until he was knocked out of it, which was cruel.
‘Champ has had a bad time and we’ve had to correct a few things. It seemed a logical thing to give him a run over hurdles for his own good and confidence.
‘He was tanking the whole way through but having gone as hard as that he still had the fight of a lion in him after the last to win first time out. He’s just a horse everyone loves.
O’Neill was delighted with the victory, as punches the air in delight whilst aboard Champ
‘I’m not going to be rushed into a decision and he could go back to fences or concentrate on the Stayers’ Hurdle. It is just lovely to see him back where he belongs.’
Champ, who missed a chunk of last season after a breathing operation, won the 2020 RSA Chase at the Cheltenham Festival as a novice, beating Minella Indo.
While the runner-up returned to Cheltenham in March to win the Gold Cup, Champ was pulled up by the seventh fence after a series of jumping errors.
A switch back to hurdles after not fulfilling your potential over fences has a hugely successful recent precedent in Big Buck’s.
Champ missed the majority of last season due to a breathing operation but is now fit and well
He was switched back after unseating his jockey in the Hennessy Gold Cup and went on to win four Stayers’ Hurdlers (2009-12).
Champ is a 20-1 shot for the talent-packed Gold Cup while his main threats in a Stayers’ Hurdle would appear to be the horses who finished behind him yesterday, as well as Willie Mullins-trained Klassical Dream, impressive winner at the Punchestown Festival In April.
Jockey Daryl Jacob was taken to hospital for X-rays on suspected hip and leg injuries following a first-fence tumble on Caribean Boy, the Nicky Henderson-trained seven-year-old, in Ascot’s Howden Silver Cup Handicap Chase yesterday.
Trainer Nicky Henderson made plans given that Champ’s jumping has previously let him down