Champ, who is named after legendary Jumps jockey Tony McCoy, lived up to his billing when landing the Grade 1 Challow Novices’ Hurdle at Newbury on Saturday.
Nicky Henderson’s six-year-old, sent off the even-money favourite in a field of seven on the back of a course-and-distance handicap win at the start of the month, had to defy a muddling pace in what proved to be a tactical contest.
Barry Geraghty’s mount took a narrow lead in the sprint to the last and then stayed on decisively to score by two and a half lengths from the Paul Nicholls-trained Getaway Trump.
GentingBet slashed the J.P. McManus-owned Champ in price for the two-and-a-half mile Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham in March, from 10/1 to 4/1, with Tornado Flyer 12/1 and Getaway Trump at 14/1.
The winning trainer was impressed, but admitted to a little relief, too.
Henderson said: “I was nervous today. I was impressed with him. Whereas last time he took off with Aidan (Coleman) halfway down the back, he was trying to take off with Barry off a slow pace.
“I love the turn of foot he had at the end of the day, given the fact he pulled pretty hard the whole way.”
“(A good pace) is going to help him. It is funny because he is the most relaxed person you could have at home, you couldn’t find a more relaxed horse.
“You would have to say (he should stick to this two-and-a-half-mile trip) if he is getting it as well as he has the last two times. I can’t see him coming back (to shorter).”
“He has got a wonderful pedigree and is a lovely horse. He has got a name he has got to live up to, but we took a big step towards it today. He will have another run (before the Cheltenham Festival), but what and where, I don’t know.”