For or against? Two of our experts give their verdict on Ballymore fancy Champ
When they named a horse after 20-time champion jump jockey Sir Anthony McCoy, you can be sure they picked a good one.
Champ has proved his moniker was not misplaced with five victories from seven starts, showing steady improvement to develop into a high-class performer.
Given his name and powerful connections, hype has surrounded the imposing son of King's Theatre from day one but supporters of the Ballymore Novices' Hurdle favourite can point to a great deal of substance too. He started the campaign with a comfortable handicap victory at Newbury and returned to the Berkshire track to run out the ready winner of the Grade 1 Challow Hurdle.
Champ left a lasting impression with the way he jumped, travelled and picked up in the latter stages of a muddling race in the Challow and the stronger pace at Cheltenham will be right up his street.
No seven-year-old has won the Ballymore since French Holly in 1998 but on what we've seen so far, Champ looks well capable of bucking that trend.
Favourites have a decent enough record in the Ballymore, but there have also been some short-priced ones who have been backed off the boards only to be toppled, and Champ could be vulnerable at the head of the market.
On official ratings he sets the standard following a bloodless victory in handicap company at Newbury in December before landing the Grade 1 Challow that month.
However, his form should be questioned. His handicap win has not worked out badly – although you would expect the Ballymore favourite to be taking advantage off 139 – but just one of his six Challow rivals has scored since, and the Challow winner has a poor record in the Ballymore.
Then there's the hype surrounding Champ – a Nicky Henderson horse owned by JP McManus named after Sir Anthony McCoy – and you wonder how solid a favourite he actually is.
He's clearly a quality novice, but as always in the Ballymore there are enough unexposed contenders in the field for an upset to be on the cards.
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