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All eyes on rising star Champ in novice chase with a glittering roll of honour

Champ (left): renews rivalry with Dashel Drasher at Newbury on Friday
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2.25 Newbury
Ladbrokes ‘Where The Nation Plays’ Novices’ Chase (Grade 2) | 2m4f | 4yo + | ITV4/RTV

Cheltenham Gold Cup winners Denman, Bobs Worth and Coneygree all landed this race during their novice season, while Grade 1 stars Clan Des Obeaux, Cue Card and Lostintranslation have also graduated from it.

All eyes this year will be on Champ, who made a thoroughly pleasing start to his new career over fences with a smooth victory over the course this month, and is currently favourite for the RSA Chase.

The Nicky Henderson-trained seven-year-old was bold at many fences and showed his class from the second-last to beat Dashel Drasher, who reopposes on the same terms, by a comfortable three and a half lengths.

In many ways it was the perfect start from a dual Grade 1 winner who is expected by many to live up to his name and go to the very top over fences.

Henderson was happy with Champ’s Newbury win which came after he had “summered incredibly well”, and believes he has come on for the outing.

“He’s in good form,” the trainer said. “He has sharpened up for that first run over fences. I’m looking forward to running him again.”

While many people will expect Champ to again do the business, it may be pertinent to note that he is rated exactly the same – 152 – on official ratings as Black Op, and 3lb inferior to Vision Des Flos.

There might be only six runners, but this is a strongly contested event with plenty of depth and Black Op heads the opposition on the back of a 15-length Stratford success in October where he made all to thrash Mr Antolini.

Tom George, trainer of Black Op, said: “I was delighted with him at Stratford. He had a good campaign leading up to his first run and he's come out of it well. He's ready to go again.

“Champ is a very good horse, but I think we're pretty good ourselves so we'll see how we get on.”

Vision Des Flos: winning the National Spirit Hurdle at Fontwell last season

Vision Des Flos, a close Aintree third behind Top Notch and Roksana on his seasonal reappearance, parted company with Tom Scudamore on his only previous start over fences at Ffos Las last October.

He showed significant improvement over hurdles subsequently, and Colin Tizzard is hoping he can develop into an RSA horse this season.

Alan King, trainer of Deyrann De Carjac, has been delighted with his six-year-old’s two wins over fences at Huntingdon and Cartmel.

King said: “He was very impressive when winning an above-average novice chase at Huntingdon. He jumped accurately and the runner-up has since won at Ascot so the form looks solid.

“This is another step up in class, but he's a horse I like a lot and he schooled well on Monday. Fences seem to have made a man of him, but I hope we don’t get any more rain.”

The Paul Nicholls-trained Mont Des Avaloirs, who has undergone wind surgery since his last run at Aintree in April, completes a field which should again produce plenty of subsequent winners.

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He has sharpened up for that first run over fences
E.W. Terms