Champ looking to start new year as he finished the old

Nicky Henderson
Nicky Henderson
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Champ will defend his unbeaten record over fences on a quality card at Cheltenham on New Year’s Day.

Named after the 20-time champion jockey Sir Tony McCoy, Nicky Henderson’s charge has largely lived up to his tall reputation so far – winning eight of 11 career starts, including two Grade Ones over hurdles. He has won each of his two starts over fences, both at Newbury - doing well to get the better of Black Op in Grade Two company most recently despite not always convincing in the jumping department and almost running out passing the elbow.

Frank Berry, racing manager to Champ’s owner JP McManus, said: “We’re looking forward to running him.

“Nicky thinks he is in good form, so we’ll see how we go.

“It looks a hot enough race, but we’re hoping for the best.”

Champ’s Grade Two penalty means he must concede 5lb to each of his five rivals in the Paddy Power Broken Resolutions Already Dipper Novices’ Chase.

His biggest threat on ratings is the Sue Smith-trained Midnight Shadow, who is winless after three starts over the larger obstacles but ran his best race so far when narrowly beaten by Keeper Hill on his latest appearance at Haydock. Deyrann De Carjac, Garo De Juilley, Paint The Dream and French raider Matfog complete the sextet.

Grade Two honours are also up for grabs in the Dornan Engineering Relkeel Hurdle, for which the likely favourite is Henderson’s Janika – who reverts to hurdles after winning the Haldon Gold Cup at Exeter and finishing fourth in Sandown’s Tingle Creek.

The Seven Barrows handler also saddles William Henry; Paul Nicholls is represented by Quel Destin, and Dan Skelton’s Roksana returns to the scene of her victory in the Mares’ Hurdle at last season’s Festival.

Skelton’s assistant Tom Messenger said: “She was a bit disappointing in the Coral Hurdle at Ascot last time, but maybe we ran her back a bit too quick after her first run of the season at Aintree.

“It’s a competitive and open race, and she has a chance. I think she’s a mare who comes to herself in the spring.”

Tom George gives 2018 Supreme Novices’ Hurdle hero Summerville Boy a confidence-boosting outing back over timber after his heavy fall in the Henry VIII Novices’ Chase at Sandown, while Emitom makes his belated return for Lambourn’s Warren Greatrex.