All in the name? Champ bids to bolster lofty reputation in Ballymore
Ballymore Novices' Hurdle (Grade 1)| 4yo+| 2m5f| ITV/RTV
Can Champ live up to his name?
There were always going to be high expectations of a horse named after 20-time champion jump jockey Sir Anthony McCoy and so far Champ has risen to the challenge.
The JP McManus-owned seven-year-old has won five of his seven starts for Nicky Henderson and justified the hype surrounding him with an impressive victory in the Grade 1 Challow Novices’ Hurdle at Newbury last December.
Champ attempts to become the first seven-year-old to win this race since French Holly in 1998
"He's run only twice in the main part of the season but he's been good and we know he handles soft ground," said Henderson, who last won this race with Simonsig in 2012.
"He pulled only once at Newbury, when he suddenly took off halfway down the back straight and tanked his way to the front. The amazing thing about that performance was he didn’t come back to them – if he wants to play that game again I’m not going to object."
Will Battle remain unbeaten?
Battleoverdoyen has a tough act to follow. The last Gigginstown-owned hurdler to arrive at the Ballymore unbeaten was stablemate Samcro, who justified favouritism under Jack Kennedy.
The jockey partners Battleoverdoyen, who is unbeaten in four starts and showcased his talents when quickly stepping up in class to win the Grade 1 Lawlor’s of Naas Novice Hurdle in January.
"He's progressed very nicely this season," said trainer Gordon Elliott. "This is a tough ask but I hope he's up to it and I'm looking forward to seeing how he gets on."
Elliott also runs Galvin, and added: "He's done nothing wrong. He's won all his starts but this represents a big step up in class."
Can Sam reverse the form?
Sams Profile was hampered in the straight at Naas before finishing second to Battleoverdoyen by two and three-quarter lengths.
The five-year-old has hit the crossbar on his two starts in Graded company, including on soft/heavy ground on his penultimate start, and is held in high esteem by trainer Mouse Morris.
"He's only five so it's a big ask but I've always liked him," said the trainer, who won this race with First Lieutenant in 2011.
"He has a bit to find with Battleoverdoyen on their run at Naas so I'm under no illusions as to the size of the task, but he's in good form and I'm hoping for a big run."
What they say
Dan Skelton, trainer of Beakstown
He's got Graded form, although not yet at the very top level. There are a couple above him in the betting but I'm very happy with him. The preliminaries won't bother him either.
Olly Murphy, trainer of Brewin'upastorm
He's in very good form and I don't think I've ever had him better. He was going well here in January before falling at the last and the ground should be fine. It'll probably take a career-best performance to win, but we couldn't be happier with him.
Ben Pauling, trainer of Bright Forecast
He's ready to go. We're happy with his preparations and he handled this sort of ground well at Newbury. The new trip can only benefit him and he's an exciting each-way chance. His owner Nick Embiricos [who owned Grand National winner Aldaniti] died earlier this year and the way the horse has come on has been amazing for his family. He's been a light at the end of the tunnel for them.
Willie Mullins, trainer of Castlebawn West and Easy Game
Easy Game has had a very good season and is a winner at Grade 2 and Grade 3 level over two and a half miles. He is in good shape, although I'm not sure if the rain-softened ground will really suit him.
Castlebawn West has less experience but conditions will bring his stamina into play and he could go well at a big price.
Martin Brassil, trainer of City Island
He travelled over well, but I just hope we don't get too much rain. He keeps on improving and I'm hopeful he'll improve again. This will be his big test.
Pat Fahy, trainer of Dunvegan
There couldn't be enough rain for this fella. He had a setback after Leopardstown. If he returns to form he has a massive chance, but it's not ideal coming to Cheltenham without seeing him run well since we treated him. Unfortunately, we just didn't have the time. Leopardstown was a disaster, but he's a very capable horse.
Tom George, trainer of Seddon
I don't care what price he is, I think he'll run well. He'll enjoy coming off a strong pace.
Battleoverdoyen was ahead ofSams Profile when winning a 2m4f Grade 1 at Naas in January and is afforded significant respect, but Mouse Morris's five-year-old was denied a clear run in the home straight and the stiffer stamina test here can enable him to reverse those placings. Challow Hurdle winner Champ might still be improving and is another with obvious claims. City Island's preparation has been relatively low key but the form of his maiden win in December looks very solid and there's a good chance he can be competitive at this higher level. Dunvegan had an excuse when flopping badly on his latest outing and he also makes the shortlist.
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