Name game paying off for Champ as Cheltenham Festival hope shines in Challow
Christening Frankel with a poignant name did him no harm and while Champ will never match Khalid Abdullah’s champion, he came through his latest audition for a starring role at the Cheltenham Festival in style.
In winning the Grade 1 Challow Novices' Hurdle, Champ is 5-1 favourite with Paddy Power and Betfair for March's Ballymore Novices' Hurdle – a contest his namesake, legendary 20-time champion jump jockey Sir Anthony McCoy, never won during his time in the saddle.
JP McManus's former retained rider was at Leopardstown, but his young son Archie stole the show in Newbury's winner's enclosure, posing for pictures with his favourite horse.
The lightly raced six-year-old, who is from the family of three-time Cheltenham Gold Cup hero Best Mate, also seems to be one of Nicky Henderson's favourites as well.
"He's got an amazing name and I'd say JP was sitting on it for a few years, wouldn't you? It was a question of which horse would get the name and he's got a wonderful pedigree and was a lovely young horse," said the Lambourn trainer.
"He's got a name he's got to live up to, but he took a big step towards it today."
He did that by travelling and jumping well before quickening clear for a two-and-a-half length victory from Getaway Trump under Barry Geraghty – McCoy's replacement in the McManus role – in the Betway-sponsored feature, which was seen by a healthy festive crowd of 8,941, up around 500 from 12 months ago.
Though well regarded, Champ spent May winning minor events at Perth and Warwick, but that education was crucial according Henderson, who also struck on the card with Champagne Platinum, another smart hope for the McManus-Geraghty axis.
The champion trainer added: "JP's very shrewd – he said Champ needed experience. We let him win a couple of very moderate races, so of course he was under the radar, but it wasn't intentional. We weren't trying to hide, but he just needed experience and it's paid off. He's a good racehorse, with a good name and a very good pedigree.
"To quicken up from a field of that quality could mean a very good performance."
McCoy, and Frankel for that matter, produced plenty of those and Champ showed just why McManus might not have wasted the name.
Champ does have recent history to defy, however. The last Challow Hurdle winner to score at the Cheltenham Festival the following March was Wichita Lineman 12 seasons ago. Eight have tried and failed since.
Bookmakers look to have got carried away by the name in making Champ 5-1 favourite for the Ballymore Novices' Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival.
He again raced keenly albeit off a steady pace, guessed at a couple of hurdles and was wanting to go left when asked to win his race, so there are question marks even if he has won a Grade 1 ultimately with a bit in hand from a good field.
Neither Kateson nor Brewin'Upastorm was seen to best effect in a tactical race which the winning rider described as "a tricky race" and it is hard to forget Champ being outmuscled by Vinndication on testing ground at Ascot 11 months ago.
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