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Nicky Henderson thrilled with Champ's seasonal return at Newbury

The Gold Cup contender finished second in the Betfair Game Spirit last weekend

Sceau Royal (L) and Champ (R) in the Betfair Game Spirit Photo: Bill Selwyn
Sceau Royal (L) and Champ (R) in the Betfair Game Spirit Photo: Bill Selwyn

NICKY Henderson believes that Champ’s performance in the Betfair Game Spirit at Newbury on Sunday was perfect preparation for the upcoming Cheltenham Festival.

The nine-year-old chaser was running for the first time since winning the RSA Chase in March last year as his return was delayed by a breathing operation.

Although Champ was edged out by Sceau Royal, Lambourn trainer Henderson felt it was an impressive run ahead of his involvement in the Gold Cup at the Festival next month.

“He’s enjoyed himself there and he’s clearly not slow,” said a delighted Henderson. “The great thing was his jumping – it was deadly – and that will have done him the world of good.

“We boxed him over to Henrietta Knight’s the other day. That [his jumping] needed ironing out and it clearly worked.”

Champ looked comfortable throughout the encounter at Newbury and Henderson believes he was right to drop him back in trip to two miles, rather than running three miles in the Denman Chase.

“He’s an exciting horse and much better on a racecourse than at home,” he said.

“You wouldn’t give two and sixpence for him on the grass gallop, but when he gets to the racecourse it’s like flicking a switch and he’s on the case full wallop.

“He’s got so much natural pace and he’s versatile. It was better to give him a kinder race today than go three miles, but on the evidence of the RSA last year, we know that he stays.”

As a result of Champ’s fine run, he has now moved to second favourite for the Gold Cup – behind last year’s winner Al Boum Photo.

“We can treat him as normal because he has done the work and the preparation that has got him ready enough and he can afford to have a week off, relax, unwind and then quietly come forward.”

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