A long list of future Grade One winners have taken the Berkshire Novice Chase here over the last 15 years, including three who landed the Cheltenham Gold Cup and another that went on to take last year’s King George at Kempton. Few horses in the race’s history, however, have put on as -dramatic a show as Champ, who almost came down at the third, looked beaten with two to jump and then almost failed to turn right onto the run-in having rallied to have the race at his mercy.
This was the most obvious moment of peril for the 4-5 favourite, as Barry Geraghty, head down and driving for the line, was a split-second away from disqualification for taking the wrong course when he finally hauled Champ around to the right side of the rail. Momentum was lost, but no more than that and it added to the impression created by the winner that Champ – named after Tony McCoy, Geraghty’s predecessor in owner JP McManus’s green and gold colours – was soon -running on strongly again to beat Black Op by just over a length.
Champ’s final brush with disaster arrived around 20 seconds after he had traded at 23-1 in running, when he appeared to be struggling and Geraghty’s urgings in the saddle moved from urgent towards desperate.
“He was just leaning a bit left on the run-in and had a look to go round again, I suppose,” Geraghty said. “It was head down and driving, but he’s leaning left and I’m thinking we’re coming round and then we’re not, it was a little scare – but he did well.”
For trainer Nicky Henderson, the performance was further evidence that Champ will be seen at his best only when he steps up to three miles.
“There’s no doubt he stays, he proved that at Aintree last season,” Henderson said. “I’m quite keen to keep him under the three-mile radar, but I think we know where we want to finish off [the RSA Chase at Cheltenham in March]. If I’d run in him in the [three-mile] Albert Bartlett [Hurdle at last year’s Festival] and done the sensible thing, he’d be unbeaten.”
Two former winners of the Stayers’ Hurdle at Cheltenham fought out the finish of the Long Distance Hurdle, but they will be taking very different paths in their next outings at least.
Paisley Park, who extended his winning streak to six, will head to Ascot for the Long Walk Hurdle and then aim towards the defence of the stayers’ championship at Cheltenham in March. Thistlecrack, meanwhile, who went down by a length after putting up an immense effort on his first start since March, will be back at Kempton on Boxing Day for the King George Chase, in which he finished a close second to Clan Des Obeaux last season.
Colin Tizzard was delighted with Thistlecrack’s first run since March behind the best staying hurdler around. “We needed to come here and looking at him, I’m sure he’ll improve massively for the run,” Tizzard said. “All of ours have [this season], but him in particular.”Greg Wood
Newcastle Fighting Fifth meeting in the balance
The good news from Newcastle is that there was no overnight frost and the course is “perfectly raceable” on Friday morning, according to its clerk, James Armstrong. But the question of what tonight may bring is preying on his mind ahead of the track’s big jumps race of the year, the Fighting Fifth Hurdle on Saturday.
Buveur D’Air and Silver Streak are due to face off in the Grade One contest, but only if Armstrong gets a bit of help from the weather. “It really just depends how long the temperature is below zero tonight, and how far below,” he told me early on Friday.
“We have covered the entire track with fleece, which will help, and we’ve got a good covering of grass, which will also help. But we are in a bit of a frost pocket here. It’s very hard to say where we stand at the moment. We’ve got our fingers crossed.”Chris Cook
An early bet for Saturday’s big race
It’s great to see a full field declared for the Ladbrokes Trophy, aka the Hennessy. We had just a dozen runners for the race last year, causing a lot of us to worry about where all the horses had gone, but twice as many will face the starter this time.
I’ll come up with my idea of the winner in Saturday’s Guardian and online through Talking Horses, but I just want to put in an early word for Brave Eagle. He is not the most likely winner but the current 50-1, available with a couple of firms, is just odd in the context of an improving, Nicky Henderson-trained youngster who has won four of his five starts over fences.
When last seen, he pinched Uttoxeter’s Summer Cup on the nod, and I fully accept that summer form doesn’t usually yield Hennessy winners. But then few summer runners are as classy as Brave Eagle, who gave 20lb and a (narrow) beating to a well-handicapped Henry Oliver improver.
He’s become a good-ground horse in recent seasons but it’s too soon to say that he can’t go in the mud and in any case it’s not supposed to be hock-deep at Newbury this weekend. With James Bowen aboard, he has a chance to get involved. The 50-1 is each-way value and I expect it will disappear during the day. Chris Cook
Chris Cook's tips
12.15 King Roland 12.45 Sully D'Oc AA 1.20 Faustinovick 1.50 Go Long (nb) 2.25 Black Op 3.00 Paisley Park 3.35 Dolphin Square (nap)
12.55 Young Tiger 1.30 Elysee Star 2.00 Deinonychus 2.35 Jabbaar 3.10 Queen Of Kalahari 3.45 Silverturnstogold 4.15 The Retriever
4.30 Crazy Love 5.00 Annie Quickstep 5.30 Brenbar 6.00 Second Collection 6.30 Vibrance 7.00 Lord Howard 7.30 Holiday Magic 8.00 Lordsbridge Boy
Doncaster - abandoned due to waterlogging