Champ is set to make his seasonal reappearance in the Denman Chase at Newbury this weekend, but the nine-year-old’s Gold Cup hopes could be dealt a blow by the fickle English weather.
The Nicky Henderson-trained runner has not raced since winning the RSA Chase at Cheltenham Festival last March but is one of 10 entries for the Grade 2 contest in Berkshire on Saturday.
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However, poor weather is threatening the upcoming meeting and both Ruby Walsh and Frank Hickey believe Champ could swerve the Gold Cup in favour of an attempt at the Paddy Power Stayers’ Hurdle next month if he doesn’t get a solid run in the Denman Chase under his belt.
Speaking on our latest ‘Countdown to Cheltenham’ podcast, Frank said: “Champ is entered in the Denman Chase at Newbury but the weather forecast for this week is pretty appalling so there must be a good chance of Newbury not making it. What are his options after that?
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“The Denman Chase might be rescheduled but were he to tip up at the first or second, he could very well end up here in the Stayers’ Hurdle instead of the Gold Cup. He’s running out of options and if they don’t get a run over fences into him, are they really going to fire him straight into a Gold Cup?
“They might instead look at the Stayers’ Hurdle and think they have a chance. If you go back to his hurdles form, he won a Grade 1 at Aintree over 3m in April 2019 and he had Lisnagar Oscar back in third that day.
“Lisnagar Oscar went on to win a Stayers’ Hurdle so connections might be thinking that if they did need to drop back over hurdles, Champ has the ability to be very competitive. He would really shake up the market if he was to end up in this race.”
Ruby agreed, suggesting Champ would be much more likely to win the Stayers’ Hurdle than the Gold Cup after minimal preparation.
“If you’re thinking ‘why would someone go to the Stayers’ Hurdle instead of the Gold Cup?’, I can’t think of a horse that has won a Gold Cup without having a run over fences in a season,” said Ruby.
“You only have to go back three years to Penhill for a horse that has won the Stayers’ Hurdle on their seasonal reappearance. I can see merit in that approach, and with non-runner money back (NRMB) at 10/1, you’re betting on this week’s weather. It’s a valid point and a pretty good option for NRMB.”
Frank added: “It’s hard to see Champ being as big as 10/1 if he lines up in the Stayers’ Hurdle, and it’s even hard to see him being 10/1 in a Gold Cup if he went there in a little bit of form.
“You would imagine the Stayers’ Hurdle would be easier to win than the Gold Cup so I wouldn’t put anyone off taking a chance at 10/1 on NRMB because if he lines up here he will be shorter than that and he will have a right chance. If he doesn’t, you get your money back.”
*Odds quoted on the widget for Denman Chase are future racing/antepost prices which means that if your selection does not run in the race for whatever reason, you will lose your stake under traditional antepost rules. However, Paddy Power are offering non-runner money back on all Cheltenham Festival bets.
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