The next round of Cheltenham Festival ‘scratchings’ have taken place, and perhaps the biggest revelation is that Champ won’t contest the Gold Cup as had previously been thought likely.
After a derisory 2020-21 campaign, Nicky Henderson’s nine-year-old roared back to form in December by triumphing in the Long Walk Hurdle, producing a powerful, staying on finish at Ascot to claim victory.
Many assumed that would make the 2020 RSA Chase winner a dead cert for the Gold Cup, however Henderson perhaps saw something in his horse’s defeat to Paisley Park in the Cleeve Hurdle as a sign that his best course of action lays over the smaller fences.
The assumption is that Champ will instead be declared for the Stayers’ Hurdle, and he has already firmed up in the betting market for that renewal to the 6/1 mark.
A Plus Tard remains the ante-post favourite in the Gold Cup market following Champ’s withdrawal, although market support has come for Irish Gold Cup pair Conflated and Minella Indo – the former won as a shock 18/1 chance at Leopardstown, while the latter is the defending champion at Prestbury Park.
Three’s Not the Magic Number for Sharjah
Having finished as the runner-up in the last two editions of the Champion Hurdle, Sharjah – if he was sentient to such things – would have loved a crack at going one better in 2022.
But Rich Ricci and Willie Mullins don’t see it that way, and the nine-year-old has been scratched from the race – despite a couple of victories in Grade 1 company this term in the Matheson Hurdle and Morgiana Hurdle.
It’s not known what the duo’s intentions are for Sharjah, but his absence has seen Honeysuckle backed into odds-on prices with the ever-impressive Rachael Blackmore on board.
Epatante and Appreciate It both also remain in the running, while Zanahiyr – second to Honeysuckle in the Irish Champion Hurdle and both of those Sharjah victories this season – is also likely to be of interest to punters.
Question Marks Over Buveur D’Air and Goshen
It was something of a surprise that both Buveur D’Air and Goshen were scratched from the Champion Hurdle and the Stayers’ Hurdle at this early stage.
The former hasn’t been since finishing fourth in the Aintree Hurdle back in April, and Henderson doesn’t feel his charge will be ready for the challenge at the Festival in just a few weeks time.
Instead, the French horse will have another crack at the Aintree race in the spring.
“There’s nothing wrong with Buveur, we’ve only really had [one] major objective with him which is the Aintree Hurdle,” the trainer said.
“We think it would be unfair on him to use the Champion Hurdle as a prep race!”
Goshen, meanwhile, has endured a frustrating 2021-22 season, but the six-year-old showed why he is so highly rated by many with a comprehensive win in the Contenders Hurdle at Sandown on Saturday.
But his immediate future does not involve a trip to the Festival, and later this year he will make his debut over fences – so confident is owner Steve Packham in his horse’s jumping ability.
— At The Races (@AtTheRaces) February 8, 2022