Wednesday, 12 May 2021



Owned by J.P. McManus and trained by Nicky Henderson, Champ could hardly be in better hands as far as the Cheltenham Festival is concerned. Indeed, the eight-year-old gelding has already appeared twice at the March showpiece, finishing a highly creditable second to City Island in the Ballymore Novices' Hurdle in 2019 and producing a remarkable finishing effort to win the RSA Insurance Novices' Chase in 2020.

On the latter occasion, the son of King's Theatre had fully 8½ lengths to make up on leader Minello Indo from the final fence, but produced a strong run in the final half-a-furlong or so to lead close home and win by a length. Even Henderson was taken aback by the nature of his victory, which he described as 'extraordinary'.

Rated 166p by Timeform, Champ is already a top class steeplechaser, but remains open to any amount of improvement after just four starts over the larger obstacles. He surrendered his unbeaten record over fences when falling at the second-last fence in the Dipper Novices' Chase, also at Cheltenham, on New Year's Day, 2020, but Henderson sees no reason 'why he can't be a Gold Cup horse next season'.

In fact, the Master of Seven Barrows is plotting a similar route to the Cheltenham Gold Cup as he did with Santini in 2019/20, possibly starting with the Future Stars Intermediate Chase at Sandown Park in November. Currently a top-priced 12/1 for the 'Blue Riband' event at Cheltenham next March, and as short as 8/1 in places, Champ remains a bright prospect.

Thursday, 15 April 2021

Cheltenham Festival – ‘Championship’ Races 2012

cheltenham festival 2012
Champion Hurdle

The two previous winners, Hurricane Fly and Binocular, returned for the 2012 renewal of the Champion Hurdle, with the former sent off 4/6 to make it 2-2 at the Festival. However, on good going, it was Rock On Ruby, trained by Paul Nicholls and ridden by Noel Fehily, who kept on best to beat Overturn by 3¾ lengths. Hurricane Fly could make no impression in the closing stages and finished third, a further 1¾ lengths. Officially, the winner was credited to Nicholls, but Rock On Ruby was mainly prepared at his satellite yard in Seaborough, Dorset by Harry Fry.

Queen Mother Champion Chase

Just eight runners lined up for the 2012 Queen Mother Champion Chase, with defending champion Sizing Europe odds-on, at 4/5, to win again. Henry de Bromhead’s 10-year-old ran creditably, but was joined by 4/1 second favourite Finian’s Rainbow, at the final fence – bypassed following the fall of Wishfull Thinking on the first circuit – and headed in the final half a furlong, or so. Finian’s Rainbow, trained by Nicky Henderson and ridden by Barry Geraghty, prevailed by 1¼ lengths, with Big Zeb a respectable, but distant, third, 15 lengths away.

Stayers’ Hurdle

Big Buck’s, the undisputed star of the staying hurdle division, claimed a record-breaking fourth victory in the race, at the chief expense of 20/1 Voler La Vedette, who pushed him all the way to the line, before succumbing by 1¾ lengths. The victory was the sixteenth in a row over hurdles by Big Buck’s, equally the record set by Sir Ken nearly six decades earlier. Another 20/1 chance, Smad Place, finished third, 7 lengths away.

Cheltenham Gold Cup

Defending champion Long Run was sent off 7/4 favourite to retain his title, ahead of 2007 and 2009 winner Kauto Star at 3/1. Kauto Star was pulled up before halfway, though, and although Long Run ran creditably he couldn’t find the same turn of foot as he had twelve months previously and eventually finished third, beaten 3 lengths. The race was won by 2011 Welsh Grand National winner, Synchronised, trained by Jonjo O’Neill and ridden by A.P. McCoy. The 8/1 chance led at the final fence and stayed on gamely to beat rallying 50/1 outsider The Giant Bolster by 2¼ lengths.

Wednesday, 17 March 2021

Cheltenham Festival – ‘Championship’ Races 2003

cheltenham festival championship races
Champion Hurdle

The 2003 Champion Hurdle was won, in emphatic style, by Rooster Booster, owned by Terry Warner, trained by Philip Hobbs and ridden by Richard Johnson, all of whom were recording their first win in the race. The popular grey had won the Vincent O’Brien County Hurdle at the 2002 Cheltenham Festival, but improved out of all recognition – officially by 19lb – in 2002/03. His winning margin, of 11 lengths, has been bettered just twice in the history of the Champion Hurdle. Defending champion Hors La Loi III blotted his copybook by refusing to race.

Queen Mother Champion Chase

Native Upmanship and Cenkos find second and third, as they had in 2002, but the previous year’s winner, Flagship Uberalles, could only finish fifth of the eight finishers, beaten 20 lengths, behind the winner, Moscows Flyer. Jessica Harrington’s the 9-year-old had won the Arkle Challenge Trophy at the previous Cheltenham Festival and, notwithstanding a non-completion in the Tingle Creek at Sandown, had won all four completed starts since, so looked a worthy favourite. Aided by the fall of Latalomne, who was going well, at the second last fence for the second year running, Moscow Flyer soon had the race sewn up, winning by 7 lengths.

Stayers’ Hurdle

Defending champion, Baracouda, who’d been turned over at 4/11 on his previous start in the Long Walk Hurdle at Ascot, where jockey Thierry Doumen overdid the waiting tactics, once again started favourite at 9/4. The 8-year-old had to work a little harder than the previous year, but nevertheless collected, staying on gamely up the hill to deny the 6-year-old Iris’s Gift, trained by Jonjo O’Neill and ridden by Barry Geraghty.

Cheltenham Gold Cup

A.P. McCoy famously said in the build-up to the 2003 Cheltenham Gold Cup, “I don't know what I’m riding this year and I don’t think it matters. Best Mate will win.” The multiple champion jockey was, of course, correct in his assertion; backed into 13/8 favourite, defending champion Best Mate came clear with two to jump and won easily by lengths. In so doing, he became the first horse since L’Escargot, in 1971, to win the Cheltenham Gold Cup twice.