Henderson anticipating bold show from Champ

Dual Grade One winner goes chasing

Trainer - Nicky Henderson
Trainer - Nicky Henderson Picture: Pat Healy Photography

Nicky Henderson is excited to see Champ make his debut over fences in the KKA-Highpoint Beginners' Chase at Newbury on Thursday.

Named after the 20-times champion Jockey Sir Anthony McCoy, the JP McManus-owned seven-year-old has lived up to his reputation thus far with six victories from nine career starts.

Last season Champ claimed Grade One honours in Newbury's Challow Hurdle and filled the runner-up spot behind City Island in the Ballymore Novices' Hurdle at Cheltenham before rounding off his campaign with a second top-level triumph at Aintree.

Henderson said: "His work has been good and he is working well.

"He has not always been a flashy horse at home but he has done nothing wrong in life so far.

"First time out I wouldn't have minded going two and a half (miles) but this is only a couple of furlongs further, we know he stays and there are so few opportunities."

In order to ensure Champ is ready for his debut over fences Henderson has given him two away days schooling at Warwick and most recently after racing at Chepstow at the end of last month.

He added: "He went to Chepstow the other week and he was great.

"It has been very dry at home that is why he has had the two away days at Warwick and Chepstow.

"We are schooling all the time on the carpet school but he just needed some experience over proper fences as he found it a bit too easy at home.

"He needed to see full size fences just to respect them as he can be quite keen. Having the two away days has done him no harm."

Champ faces five rivals in a two-mile-six-furlong contest won last season by Warren Greatrex's top-class mare La Bague Au Roi.

Dashel Drasher won his final four starts over hurdles last season for Jeremy Scott – and while the Somerset-based trainer has admitted his charge has not been entirely foot-perfect over fences at home, he was more encouraged by his latest schooling session on Wednesday morning.

Scott said: "I wasn't that happy with his previous schooling. He went down to Philip Hobbs' place for a schooling session last week, but I think he learnt from that as we schooled him again this morning and he jumped very well, so we decided to declare him.

"We decided on Newbury as I think we'll get the best ground and it's a straightforward track. It's not ideal to be taking on Champ, but in these races the experience is more important than the result.

"I was much happier with his jumping this morning and he's in good form and ready to run."

Dan Skelton saddles Beakstown, who chased home Sam Spinner on his chasing debut at Wetherby three weeks ago.

Emma Lavelle's Fontsanta, the Colin Tizzard-trained Highest Sun and Red River from Kim Bailey's yard complete the sextet.

Four last-time-out winners do battle in the CSP Mares' Novices' Hurdle.

Henderson saddles runaway Worcester scorer Floressa, Paul Nicholls runs Chepstow victor Silver Forever, Nigel Twiston-Davies is represented by Ffos Las winner Vienna Court and Paul Hennessy has sent Heaven Help Us back across the Irish Sea less than a fortnight after a memorable triumph at Cheltenham.

Hennessy had earmarked the Listed Ladbrokes Mares' Novices' Hurdle at Newbury on November 30 as the next target for his mare following her victory at Prestbury Park, but has decided to give a run at the Berkshire circuit beforehand.

"She came out of Cheltenham in great shape and if we're going to have a crack at that Listed race at the end of the month, we thought we might as well bring her over and let her see the track. Hopefully the experience will stand her in good stead," said the Gowran-based trainer.

"She's in good form and has travelled over well. She stretched her legs on the track this morning and had a pick of grass and the great thing about her is she's so relaxed – she takes everything in her stride.

"This is the next step up. We had the day of a lifetime in Cheltenham and we can't expect that to happen every day.

"So long as she's competitive we'll be happy. We're delighted to be here."

At The Races