The simple answer is ‘yes’; at the time of writing, Champ is one of 41 horses remaining in the 2021 Cheltenham Gold Cup at the latest declaration stage. Indeed, despite his relative inexperience over fences, the King’s Theatre gelding is currently 10/1 joint-second favourite for the Gold Cup, alongside Minella Indo, whom he collared close home when winning the RSA Insurance Novices’ Chase at the Cheltenham Festival in 2020.
A dual Grade One winner over hurdles, Champ won his first two starts over the larger obstacles and, although falling in the Dipper Novices’ Chase at Cheltenham in January, 2020, regained the winning thread on his return to Prestbury Park two months later. Now a nine-year-old, Champ has not been seen in public since, with a wind operation in the autumn of 2020 delaying his return to competitive action.
Originally, the Grade One Savills Chase at Leopardstown over Christmas was mooted as a possible starting point for the 2020/21 season, but trainer Nicky Henderson decided that the Grade Two Cotswold Chase at Cheltenham in late January – which he won with subsequent Gold Cup runner-up Santini in 2020 – would present a less arduous task for Champ after his lengthy absence. Henderson has described Champ as ‘very, very good’ and, while he admits that there is room for improvement in his jumping, two Grade One wins over an extended three miles on soft going suggest that the Gold Cup distance is well within his compass and he remains an exciting prospect.