Horse RacingJump Racing

Ed Nicholson analyses Champ’s Cheltenham Gold Cup chances

February 24, 2021January 7th, 2022

WHAT to make of Champ’s fine second placing in last Saturday’s Game Spirit at Newbury over 2 miles and 92 yards?

Many before were suggesting that Nicky Henderson had finally lost his mind running this particular horse over such a relatively short distance given it took until the final yards of the 3 mile ½ furlong Royal Sun Alliance Insurance Novices’ Chase for Champ to wear down both Minella Indo and Allaho the last time we saw him in action last March. 

But here, over this shorter trip, Champ jumped fence to fence, taking lengths out of his field at many of his obstacles and ultimately a faster jump at the last may have seen him take the G2 Game Spirit (an important race in its own right, but also a traditional trial for the Champion Chase) in his first attempt back at the minimum trip since contesting bumpers back in 2017.

Let’s not forget the winner, Sceau Royal (who finished just 2 lengths ahead of Champ) has been fast enough THIS SEASON to win the 1 mile 7 ½ furlong G2 Unibet Elite hurdle and follow home Unibet Champion Hurdle winner Epatante in the G1 Fighting Fifth Hurdle. Alan King’s dual code gelding is also classy enough over fences at 2 miles to have been placed in Champion Chase itself.

In short, if you didn’t know better, you would have been surprised there was no quote for Champ to win the Champion Chase. After all, in the last dozen years legendary two milers Sprinter Sacre, Altior and Master Minded have all won the Game Spirit with Champion Chase winners Politologue and Dodging Bullets both placing in the contest over the last five seasons too.

If Champ was running in the Champion Chase at what price would you have him? Unibet would be 10/1 given the way race looks today. But he’s not running in the Champion Chase. He’s in the Gold Cup.

Following his second placing last weekend, Unibet cut him from 11/1 into 7/1 for National Hunt racing’s Blue Riband event. The main issue for me with his run over 2 miles ½ furlong was that he pulled a little when in front and settling him has been an issue in the past; back up in trip – going a slower pace – will he settle?

 

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It’s not a usual strategy; running over less than 2 miles 1 furlongs before stepping up to 3 miles or more at the Cheltenham Festival in your very next run. But how usual is it? And what happened when others have tried?

This century my research pointed to just four horses who have successfully gone from 2 miles 1 furlong or less up to 3 miles plus next time at the Cheltenham Festival, from 121 who have tried.  

Inglis Drever won the Stayers Hurdle in 2005 having previously won the 1 mile 7 ½ furlong Kingwell Hurdle at Wincanton.

Sizing Australia took the 3 mile 6 furlongs Glenfarclas Handicap Chase (Cross Country) having won a Navan Handicap Hurdle over 2 miles immediately before in 2011.

Cause Of Causes took a 2 mile Naas Grade 2 Novice Chase in February prior to bolting up in the Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Challenge Cup Handicap Chase in 2016.

Nichols Canyon won the 2017 Stayers Hurdle having previously fallen at the last in the 2 mile BHP Insurance Irish Champion Hurdle at Leopardstown.

This century, seven horses have jumped up from 2 miles to contest the Gold Cup in their next race  – all of them outsiders from 100/1 to 500/1 including two who had run in the Champion Chase two days prior (Venn Ottery). Their highest placing between them was 10th.

Although only four have won, plenty of good horses have tried the 2 mile last run up to 3 mile Cheltenham route and been placed. 

Annie Power finished 2nd in the World Hurdle in 2014 having won the 2 mile The Doncaster Mares' Hurdle the time before.

Celestial Halo was runner up in the 2013 World Hurdle having run in the 1m 7 ½ f Kingwell Hurdle at Wincanton.

Shaneshill is another, he ran in the 2 mile Lightning Novices' Chase prior to finishing runner up in the 2016 RSA Chase.

And those wishing Champ and Nicky Henderson the best of luck in the Cheltenham Gold Cup will be glad to know the master of Seven Barrows has form in this 2 mile to 3m Cheltenham Festival lark – and at Grade 1 level to boot.

Back in 2010 Long Run won the 2 mile Kingmaker Novices' Chase at Warwick and 32 days later finished 3rd in the RSA.  

 

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