The winner of this 3m chase for novices has sometimes won the Cheltenham Gold during the following season. Denman, Bobs Worth and Lord Windermere have achieved that task this century and for the 2020 renewal, there will be horses with greater ambitions than just winning this contest.
Champ from the Nicky Henderson stable has been the ante-post favourite at 3/1 for several weeks and after finishing second in the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle last season, he opened his chasing career by scoring twice at Newbury earlier this season.
However, he last raced at Cheltenham on New Year’s Day when falling two fences from the finish. The 8-year-old was four lengths clear at the time and seemed set for a three-timer. It will be hoped that he has recovered from that fall but it is also worth noting that he has won just once over the three miles distance when claiming a novices’ hurdle last year on the flat Aintree track.
Among the opposition may be a few Irish raiders with Minella Indo from the Henry de Bromhead stable most prominent in the ante-post markets. The 7-year-old gelding was second in the Albert Barlett Novices’ Hurdle last term but in two races over fences this season, he has finished second and then won his latest start.
A second place behind Laurina can be excused as the winner was receiving weight and the distance of 2m4f may have been too short for Minella Indo. When tried over three miles next time, he won in testing underfoot conditions and he may be more suited to drier conditions. Nobody can dispute his undoubted stamina.
Of the other Irish candidates, former Champion Hurdler and veteran novice Faugheen will be a popular winner if allowed to participate. A winner at three miles over the smaller obstacles, the 12-year-old has won all three races this season including a Grade 1 success at the Dublin Festival.
Stablemate Allaho may be another entrant and he easily won his last contest by more than twenty lengths. However, he may be vulnerable to a faster horse at the finish while Batleoverdoyen fell when beaten in that graded race won by Faugheen but had won his three previous chases. There is a slight doubt as to his participation.
Perhaps the most dangerous challenger to the favourite could be Copperhead who has improved with racing this season. He won his latest contest at Ascot by pursuing a relentless gallop which followed a similar victory over a long trip at Newbury. The Colin Tizzard trained horse seems to have abundant stamina but may need to set a strong pace from at least a mile from the finish. His is currently available at about 4/1.