Time spent in reconnaissance is time seldom wasted and with only Wednesday and “Trials day” at the end of January left to give certain horses a look at Cheltenham, Nicky Henderson is using the Paddy Power Broken Resolutions Already Dipper Chase to give Champ experience of the chase course ahead of the Festival in March.
Champ, who spearheads a strong New Year’s Day team from Seven Barrows, would be unbeaten in almost two years, according to Henderson, if he had run him in last year’s Albert Bartlett Hurdle rather than the Ballymore Hurdle, in which he finished second.
He has certainly made a promising start to chasing, winning both starts at Newbury. Last time he beat Black Op by 1¾ lengths but nearly fell at the third when hampered by a loose horse and then retrieved a potentially awkward situation on the run-in when just squeezing around the correct side of the water jump when short of room.
“This will probably be his last start over 2½ [miles] but it is a good race for him and then it will be up to three miles,” said Henderson.
It may be that Midnight Shadow, winner of last year’s Relkeel Hurdle, is his biggest threat. He should have won at Carlisle on his penultimate start, when he fell late on, and running Keeper Hill a close second last time was no disgrace.
Might Bite and Beware The Bear both return to the smaller obstacles on Wednesday in the Paddy Power 69 Sleeps to Cheltenham Handicap Hurdle, the former for a confidence booster after unseating early at Aintree last time, the latter for his last start before the Grand National.
“Might Bite was electric schooling over hurdles this morning,” said Henderson. “Whether that is the case on the racecourse we will see.”
The trainer is also taking two shots at an open-looking Doran Engineering Relkeel Hurdle with Janika, fourth in the Tingle Creek, and William Henry, last year’s Coral Hurdle winner, who is well suited by the track and distance.
Sizing John’s first start after two years off came to a premature end when he fell at the third-last at Punchestown in a race won by Burrows Saint.
“Barry [Geraghty] was delighted with him,” said Jessica Harrington of the 2017 Gold Cup winner. “He said he had just come alive. Sizing John jumped the hurdle perfect but gravity took over. He seems fine.”
The 2019 Gold Cup winner, Al Boum Photo, makes his reappearance in the Savills New Year’s Day Chase at Tramore on Wednesday. He won the race last year and faces three rivals, his stable companions Acapella Bourgeois and Voix de Reve plus Gordon Elliott’s Shattered Love.