Champ’s freshness could hold key to Long Walk Hurdle

Nicky Henderson says Champ will be ready to go when he makes his seasonal debut in the Grade One Howden Long Walk Hurdle at Ascot on Saturday, live on Sky Sports Racing.

The JP McManus-owned 11-year-old finished third behind fellow veteran Paisley Park last year when the race was run at Kempton after Ascot was abandoned, having triumphed in the 3m 0.5f contest first time out in 2021.

Last season, Champ had edged out Paisley Park a month earlier in a hard-fought Long Distance Hurdle at Newbury, a race Henderson chose to bypass this term in order to keep him fresh.

Speaking to Sky Sports Racing on Thursday, Henderson said: “He’s one of our real friends, he’s been here a long, long time. He’s lived up to his name in a lot of ways, you couldn’t have a nicer horse, you couldn’t have a more honest horse.

“He’s very laidback about his work at home, he doesn’t show you a huge amount and he loves to be fresh. So last year he started at Newbury where he had a fantastic battle with Paisley Park in the Long Distance Hurdle, but we always thought he was possibly best first time out, or very fresh, so we’ve kept him back especially to have a crack at this again.”

Image: Paisley Park and Champ battle it out at Newbury last year

Champ is one of 10 horses declared for the Long Walk Hurdle, along with Paisley Park, who also claimed the honours in 2018 and 2020, and another veteran in Dashel Drasher.

Crambo and West Balboa head the younger brigade, while Paul Nicholls and Gary Moore will both be double-handed with Blueking D’Oroux and Red Risk and Botox Has and Goshen respectively, with Gowel Road completing the field.

“I don’t think you’d be very confident about any of these Grade One races, it’s going to be very competitive,” added Henderson. “We know there is sure to be a solid gallop with Dashel Drasher there. Paisley Park will be lurking around and one minute you will think you’ve got him covered and he’ll suddenly reappear at the death. It should be good!”

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Emma Lavelle looks ahead to Paisley Park’s run at Ascot

Crambo stepping up for O’Brien

Crambo, one of last season’s leading novice hurdlers, won at Aintree on his seasonal debut before finishing third behind Slate Lane at Haydock and his trainer Fergal O’Brien is testing the water in Grade One company.

He told Sky Sports Racing: “I’ve been delighted with Crambo since he came back in. Noel Fehily does the pre-training with him. When he came back to us he just seemed a lot sharper this time, and when we started schooling him he was really good.

“We thought originally we may go straight to Haydock but three miles first time out would be just a bit too much for him, so we had to pop in a race around Aintree (2m 4f) which he won very comfortably, went up three or four pounds in the handicap for that one, and went on to Haydock and carried an awful lot of weight. He gave weight away and beat some nice horses and on another day with a bit more luck I think he would have nearly won.

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Fergal O’Brien is looking forward to running Crambo in the Long Walk Hurdle and he also explains his decision to book Johnny Burke for the ride

“I just think we’ve got to give this a go and it will give us a good sighter of where we go forward from here. There’s some nice horses in there and he really does have to step up going into very deep waters but he’s a young horse, he’s on the up and I’m really looking forward to running him.

“He’s trained very well since Haydock. He’s a bit like Dysart Enos, and all those good horses, he doesn’t show you a lot at home but we know he’s well in himself, so fingers crossed he can have a big run.”

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Jeremy Scott says ‘it’s all systems go’ for Dashel Drasher ahead of Saturday’s Long Walk Hurdle at Ascot

Botox Has bids to follow up Wetherby win

Botox Has produced arguably a career-best when claiming Wetherby’s Grade Two West Yorkshire Hurdle last month and Moore has been waiting for a crack at this Grade One ever since.

“I’m looking forward to running him and the form is working out well,” said Moore. “Hopefully he is as good as he was that day at Wetherby but time will tell.

“He’s always been a fair horse and he was probably one of the best English horses during his juvenile year – if it had not been for Goshen he would have been the top four-year-old, he’s always been a good horse. He didn’t really take to chasing but has done well reverting back to hurdles.”

Three chances for Henderson in valuable finale

Meanwhile, Henderson will be triple-handed in the closing Betfair Exchange Trophy with the JP McManus-owned duo Iberico Lord and Impose Toi joined by the mare Luccia in the 11-strong field for the 1m 7.5f handicap hurdle.

The Seven Barrows handler said on Thursday: “We are very happy [with them]. Iberico Lord is in great order, he just jumped five hurdles this morning, he looked very, very sharp.

Nico de Boinville riding Iberico Lord (green) win The Unibet Greatwood Handicap Hurdle at Cheltenham
Image: Iberico Lord on his way to victory at Cheltenham last month

“Impose Toi, he won at Cheltenham and we were thinking of going to Sandown but that ground was so unattractive. We’ve kept him back and JP was happy to run the two against each other. They’re the same age, they’re the same profile, they’ve both been doing very well so they’ve got to take each other on. It’s a very, very big prize and you probably need all the bullets you can find.

“Luccia is lurking there, I think, quite menacingly. She just jumped half a dozen hurdles with Paul O’Brien, who is going to ride her, this morning and she’s in really good shape. She gets a fair bit of weight off the other two this time.”

Watch all the action from the Christmas Racing Weekend at Ascot on Friday and Saturday live on Sky Sports Racing, with the Long Walk Hurdle due off at 2.25pm on Saturday.

Source : Sky Sports