Keith Melrose finds a rival who could deliver knockout blow to Champ in RSA
RSA Insurance Novices' Chase (Grade 1) | 3m½f | Old course | 5yo+ | ITV/RTV
Champ has been many people's idea of the most shaky Cheltenham Festival favourite for months, but hangs on limpet-like at the top of the RSA market. That is telling of two things: the horse's undoubted talent and a lack of a truly outstanding candidate to take his place.
Both are open to being probed. Champ's talent is backed up by a quasi-mythology: owner JP McManus had stored up the name, the same way Khalid Abdullah did with Frankel. The anointed horse was bound to be popular.
More pressingly, though, there is a rival whose form justifies being favourite for the RSA in most years.It is felt that had Copperhead taken a more fashionable route to this race that he would be shorter. As it is, he started in handicaps, winning a couple of strong races beforerecording a hugelyimpressive success in the Reynoldstown.
The doubt over that race concerns the bottomless ground. While it is true that nothing else gave its running, runner-up Two For Gold could not keep up and third-placed Danny Whizzbang floundered once the going got tough. Seeing them off so easily is the mark of a Grade 1 horse.
The pace in the race is likely to come from Allaho, who has more natural speed than Minella Indo. He may have too much, as the doubt over him is stamina. There are no suchquestion over Minella Indo, who won last year's Albert Bartlett. The two working in relay could make for a serious test.
If that plays out, expect only Minella Indo to still be there for the final climb. He lacks experience, having run just twice over fences, but has belied that in how he has jumped andthere is probablyno trainer whose horses jump fences better than Henry de Bromhead.
The price of some of the outsiders is another reminder as to the sort of dents Champ's reputation can withstand which others cannot.
Slate House, Battleoverdoyen and Pym all have classy form, the first two are Grade 1 winners over fences, but all failed to complete last time.
While you would not regard any of them as being ahead of either Champ or Copperhead, it could be argued that they have been priced dismissively.
Analysis by betting editor Keith Melrose
McCoy: I think Champ is the best horse
Seeing the horse named after his father fall left Archie McCoy in tears on New Year's Day. Listen to the father speak about that horse's bid to win the RSA Insurance Novices' Chase and you sense young Archie might be in a happier state come Wednesday afternoon.
Wherever Champ goes, so does the connection between the son of King's Theatre and Sir Anthony McCoy, whose employer, JP McManus, bestowed upon the animal a name that honours the jockey who rode so many winners in the green, gold and white silks.
So far, the naming of Champ has looked inspired. A fine silver medal at last year's Cheltenham Festival was followed by a second Grade 1 success in Aintree's three-mile Sefton Novices' Hurdle. Over fences this season there were also two novice chase victories before the Nicky Henderson-trained eight-year-old crashed out at the penultimate fence when leading the Dipper Chase field under Barry Geraghty.
"The fall last time is a bit of a concern and it means he hasn't had the perfect preparation for the race," said McCoy. "Even so, I think he is the best horse. I certainly think down the line he will be the best horse - and I wouldn't want to ride any of the others in this race."
McCoy added: "Paul Shanahan, who is a very good judge, picked him out as a young horse and I also really liked him when I rode him at Nicky Henderson's place before he first ran. He was a must-get horse.
"JP had wanted to use the name 'Champ' and decided if this was such a must-get horse he had to have the name 'Champ'. That way, if he turned out to be no good I would be reminded of it forever more as well!
"The horse was up at our place a couple of years ago and Archie found out Champ was named after me.
"Archie loves the horse. The first few times he saw Champ race he won, so when he got beat at the festival last year he was in shock. Then when he fell here the last day he was heartbroken. It really made him cry. Therefore for lots of reasons, I hope he wins."
Reporting by Lee Mottershead
What they say
Paul Townend, rider of Allaho
He got beaten first time out by Easy Game but was very impressive on his second run at Fairyhouse. The trip should suit and there is not a massive field, which will be a help. He takes on Easy Game again but I think the benefit of a couple of runs and this trip will suit Allaho.
He is an outsider but his price is probably reflective of who trains him! I do think he has every right to be in the race and I think we could have pushed Champ close at Kelso had our race there not been abandoned. He is super fit and schooled at Musselburgh recently. The dream is still alive.
Gordon Elliott, trainer of Battleoverdoyen
He didn’t deserve to fall at Leopardstown because he had jumped beautifully to that point. He was quite sore after that, so it was touch and go whether he would make Cheltenham, but we've got here and I do think this horse has an awful lot more to offer over fences.
Nicky Henderson, trainer of Champ and Pym
Apart from one fall Champ has done nothing wrong. He had a pop around our indoor school this morning and was really good. Since the fall he has also been for a racecourse gallop and jumped 12 fences, which went super. We've purposely kept him below three miles this season, but I've never been worried about the trip and he won over three miles over hurdles at Aintree last season. He wants three miles and we've been keeping it up our sleeves all along. The ground at Ascot last time in the Reynoldstown was the problem for Pym. It was appalling. I could have done without the recent rain for him - if the lads are saying the ground is horrendous we might have to see.
I wouldn't want to split our two. Copperhead was impressive at Ascot last time and has had a fair bit of publicity because of what he has achieved. He was a handicapper at the beginning of the season and is progressive. We did have Slate House in the Marsh but we think he is more of a stayer. You can forgive his last run when he was pulled up at Cheltenham as a few of ours were a bit flat.
Henry de Bromhead, trainer of Minella Indo
We think he is made for the race and we always have. We're very happy with him.
This looks an ideal scenario for Minella Indo, who stayed on well to win last year's Albert Bartlett and should have plenty more to offer over fences at 3m. Old rival Allaho is respected but the stamina-laden Copperhead may prove a bigger threat if this becomes a thorough test. Champ's crashing fall in the Dipper takes the gloss off his chance but a clear round would put him right in the picture.
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