The gelding has switched between hurdles and fences throughout his career, notably winning what was then known as the RSA at the Cheltenham Festival in 2020 before reverting to smaller obstacles last term.
Taking the staying hurdler path, the bay won the 2021 Long Walk Hurdle at Ascot and was then placed in all of the top-class contests in the division during the rest of his campaign.
Champ now makes his seasonal bow under regular rider Jonjo O’Neill Jnr and is the expected favourite for the Grade Two contest.Black Friday offer! Join Racing TV for just £10 per month for the next 12 months! Click here for more details.
“Nicky (Henderson, trainer) is very pleased with him, he said he’s done two nice bits of work and he couldn’t be happier with him,” said Frank Berry, racing manager to owner JP McManus.
“We’re hoping for the best with him, we’re likely to take it race by race from Saturday and see where we want to go next.”
Henderson, speaking to Sky Sports Racing, added: “He’s never been the easiest and has had his issues, but he’s a lovely horse and wonderfully named.
“He’s in good form – he schooled this morning and jumped absolutely beautifully.
“He was going to make up into a headline steeplechaser, but he’s always had a few problems with his back and I think he finds jumping hurdles rather easier and he stays three miles really well.
“That (Long Walk at Ascot) would be the idea.”
Much-loved stayer Paisley Park will make his fourth appearance in the race for Emma Lavelle at Newbury.
The bay gelding was at the peak of his powers when lifting the Grade Two prize in 2019, with the victory sandwiched by wins in the Stayers’ Hurdle and the Cleeve Hurdle at Cheltenham.
Now aged 10, Paisley Park is perhaps not the force he once was, but he has finished second and third in the last two renewals of the Long Distance Hurdle.
Dan Skelton’s Proschema and the Olly Murphy-trained Thomas Darby renew rivalry after finishing first and second in last month’s West Yorkshire Hurdle at Wetherby.
Proschema was 10 lengths too strong on that occasion, but Thomas Darby did claim this prize 12 months ago and returns to defend his crown.
“Thomas Darby is in good form. He is a bit better off at the weights with Proschema than when they last met, but he would want to improve plenty to be beating Dan’s horse,” said Murphy.
“If it turned into a real staying race, he could run really well. He does like Newbury.
“They are all a year older this year and Thomas Darby has had a prep run. He will be going there razor-sharp fit and this is his kind of Gold Cup for the season, so I am hoping he can run well.
“Champ is going to be hard to beat off his Long Walk Hurdle win last year as well. It’s a very competitive race but we are looking forward to running him.”
The field is completed by Tom Lacey’s outsider Tea Clipper and Jeremy Scott’s stable star Dashel Drasher. The latter is better known as a Grade One-winning chaser, but has won his last two starts over hurdles – the most recent being at Aintree three weeks ago.
Scott said: “We’ve been really pleased with him since Aintree. I would have loved to have gone to Ascot last week, but it’s probably a good job we didn’t as we wouldn’t have run.
“I just hope the ground is safe. He has won on good ground, but it’s not ideal.
“If he stays the three miles then it definitely opens things up for us going forward.”
Stage Star will seek to build on his impressive chasing debut in the Coral Racing Club Novices’ Chase at Newbury on Friday.
The Paul Nicholls-trained six-year-old was a high-quality hurdler, winning the Grade One Challow at the aforementioned track before disappointing at the big festivals at Cheltenham and Aintree.
His first run over larger obstacles came in a competitive Warwick novice at the beginning of the month, where he defeated Dan Skelton’s Greatwood winner West Cork by a facile 13 lengths under Harry Cobden.
A progression to Grade Two level now beckons, with the gelding set to take on four rivals over two and a half miles.
Dan Downie of Owners Group, the partnership in whose colours the horse runs, said: “I’m hoping he jumps as well as he did at Warwick, because then he would have half a chance.
“His best attribute is the way he travels and settles. If he settles, we’d be hopefully looking for a good run.
“When he disappointed at Cheltenham and Aintree, he obviously had excuses and it was quite clear early on that it wasn’t going to happen, as he was just very keen.
“If he just drops the bridle, jumps and settles, I’d hope he’d be bang there.”
Nicholls added: “Stage Star won the Challow last year and won at Warwick the other day.
“Two and a half is ideal for him. We will see what happens after this, I haven’t made any plans for these novice chasers yet.”
A key rival will be Nigel Twiston-Davies’ Beauport, another horse who made a storming start to his chasing career when winning the Listed Colin Parker at Carlisle last month.
Taking the race by half a length from the classy Millers Bank, the gelding was immediately given the Newbury contest as a next target and has been training well in preparation.
“He’s been very well, he’s had a clear run and everything’s gone right since Carlisle,” said Carl Llewellyn, assistant trainer to Twiston-Davies.
“He’s been targeted at this race, we’d prefer it to be softer ground so hopefully when we get there it’ll be safe. ”
“We’re going to get there early and walk it with Bryan and Philippa (Burrough), the owners.”
Of Beauport’s Colin Parker success, Llewellyn said: “It suited him well, it rained on the day and it was very soft.
“That’s what he loves, whether he’s as effective on better ground we’re yet to find out.”
Philip Hobbs’ Camprond will look to put a short-lived chasing debut behind him as he has a second start over fences in the race.
A handy hurdler last season when mixing novice contests with quality handicaps, the JP McManus-owned gelding won the Grade Two Persian War before signing off with a valuable success in a Punchestown handicap.
His chasing debut came at Exeter earlier in the month, but the six-year-old and rider Aidan Coleman made it no further than the first fence when parting company after an awkward jump.
Camprond then wondered loose around the track as the race continued, though he and all the other runners were ultimately none the worse after a few near misses.
“Unfortunately that day at Exeter we didn’t get too far, but I believe he’s schooled well since,” said Frank Berry, McManus’ racing manager.
“Aidan has been happy with the way he’s jumped when schooling so we’re hoping for a clear round and that, hopefully, he runs well.”
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