Racing is usually about the winners, but with all due respect to Sceau Royal, Alan King’s heroically consistent jumper who has spent most of his career bashing against the immovable object of Altior, the story after the rearranged Betfair Game Spirit Chase at Newbury on Sunday 21 February was about the runner-up Champ.
Nicky Henderson decided to run last year’s RSA winner over two miles on his belated reappearance, and the nine-year-old was promoted to second favourite for the Cheltenham Gold Cup after making most and only going down by two lengths in what is, more usually, a Champion Chase trial.
“He’s enjoyed himself, he’s not slow and the great thing was his jumping,” said a very happy Henderson. “He was quite deadly out there and it will have done him the world of good. We now have two days short of a month to get him ready for the Gold Cup.
“He’s an extraordinary horse. When he comes to the races, it’s like a flicking a switch on. You wouldn’t give sixpence for his work up the all-weather, you wouldn’t give two-and-six for his work on the grass, but he’s worth the full wallop when you bring him to a racecourse.
“I told Nico [de Boinville] not to go asking him too many questions, but he was asking to be asked. We’ve been working on it [his jumping] with Henrietta Knight which is where we discovered in the autumn that he needed a wind operation.
“I wonder if it might have been why he got into trouble two out in last year’s RSA. He went back there on Thursday for a loose-school. His jumping needed ironing out, but that was flawless.
“All good horses have to have pace and we think he stays so you’ve got to be happy with that.”
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