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Champ has Christmas target at Leopardstown

Nicky Henderson has identified the Savills Chase at Leopardstown as a likely Christmas target for Champ.

Last seen lunging late to claim a third win from four starts over fences in a thrilling renewal of the RSA Insurance Novices’ Chase at the Cheltenham Festival in March, the JP McManus-owned eight-year-old is this season on the Gold Cup trail.

Champ could kick off his campaign at Aintree before a potential Irish trip.

“Champ is not quite as far forward as some,” said Henderson.

“We have just looked at his wind, but that is all sorted now – however, he is a little bit behind the others in the A-squad.

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“I don’t think he will go to Sandown for the intermediate chase, and we aren’t that keen on the idea of the Ladbrokes Trophy at Newbury – and I don’t think Kempton is really his track either.

“The Many Clouds Chase at Aintree is a possibility, and there is a serious chance he could go to Ireland for the Savills Chase at Christmas – that is something we have mulled over.”

Henderson’s other leading Gold Cup contender is Santini, who was narrowly beaten by Al Boum Photo in the blue riband last term.

“We are trying to get Santini ready for the Betfair Chase at Haydock – that is the plan at the moment,” added the champion trainer.

“I don’t think he will go to Kempton for the King George, because when he got beaten in the Feltham the other year I didn’t think it was his track that day.

“Going back to Cheltenham for the Cotswold Chase would be the obvious place for him to go after Christmas. The problem with these big chasers is there aren’t many options for them.”

One of the most exciting additions to the novice chasing division this season will be Supreme Novices’ Hurdle winner Shishkin.

“Shishkin did his first piece of more serious work on Saturday, and it went great,” said Henderson.

“We’ve not schooled him over fences yet, beause we are just waiting for the ground to come right on the grass.

“It was a very easy decision to go chasing with him this season. If you look back at when we had Altior in the same position, that was a decision that was much closer.

“He (Altior) could have won a Champion Hurdle, no doubt about it. But he was a year older than Shishkin – and if we were going to go chasing with him we had to go that year and go for an Arkle, not a Champion Hurdle.

“With Shishkin, his career was always going to be chasing – and he is a big, strong horse built for it.

“In Epatante and Buveur D’Air you have two ready-made Champion Hurdle horses.”

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Rugby

Exeter Chiefs lift first Champions Cup with thrilling victory over Racing 92

Racing were right back in the contest and Exeter needed to reassert themselves. Unsurprisingly, their forwards again came up trumps. The French side were once more powerless to stop drive after drive and this time it was Williams who prospered, with Joe Simmonds’ conversion making it 21-12 at half-time.

But Racing struck first in the second period, taking less than three minutes before Zebo arrowed over for another score and became only the fourth player to score two tries in a Heineken final.

It was a wake-up call for Exeter, yet they replied rapidly after wing Jack Nowell intercepted Russell’s ambitious pass 20 metres from his own line and found a supporting Slade, who scored and Joe Simmonds converted.

Back came Racing with a close-range score by Chat – Machenaud converted – and the game entered its final quarter with 52 points and eight tries scored.

A Machenaud penalty made it a one-point game with 15 minutes left, then Francis was yellow-carded, Joe Simmonds struck his clinching penalty and Exeter prevailed following an anxious wait before the whistle.

PA

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Sports News

Magical out to be crowed Champion again at Ascot

Magical is poised to take centre stage once again at Ascot as she bids for back-to-back victories in the Qipco Champion Stakes.

The five-year-old mare has seven Group One triumphs to her name, including in this race 12 months ago and the Fillies & Mares at the meeting in 2018.

Aidan O’Brien’s charge has netted three more this season – including last time out when beating Ghaiyyath in the Irish Champion Stakes – and will now try to join the likes of Brigadier Gerard, Triptych and Cracksman as a dual Champion Stakes winner.

“She’s an amazing filly really – we’ve seen how consistent she has been. She has run in all the top Group Ones since she was a two-year-old, which is unusual,” said O’Brien.

“There doesn’t seem to be any ceiling to her yet. We were delighted with her in Leopardstown and we couldn’t have been happier with every run she’s had this year really.

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“It was a great race the last day. They went a nice even pace and she’s a very solid filly who is happy to make the running or get a lead or whatever.

“She doesn’t need anybody else to help her – she’s very happy to plough a lone furrow.

“The Champion Stakes is a very prestigious race and it would be unbelievable for her to win it again.”

Japan was denied his chance in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe due to issues with contaminated feed, but O’Brien expects the four-year-old to make his presence felt.

“We were very happy with Japan going to the Arc – he was in a really good place and had been working very well,” he said.

“We’ve been happy with him since and he’s probably better than his runs before. We’re looking forward to seeing him run.”

Serpentine, surprise winner of the Investec Derby, is the third member of O’Brien’s raid on the 10-furlong showpiece.

“It will be interesting to see him over a mile and a quarter. We saw in the Derby he’s able to go a really good tempo and keep going over a mile and a half,” he said.

“We think he has class and we think he’s tough and genuine. He’s a very relaxed horse who doesn’t overdo himself at home.

“You can never be sure, but usually those mile-and-a-half horses that have class are able to cope with a mile and a quarter.”

John Gosden runs French Derby hero Mishriff, who missed the Arc to wait for this race. Frankie Dettori takes the ride.

“Obviously you are bringing three-year-old French form to bear against proven older horses and that will be quite a challenge for him, no doubt,” said Gosden.

“He has improved for racing this year. He was racing in the Saudi Cup at the end of February, he has been to Chantilly and Deauville so he has seen a lot of the world but he is not over-raced, that is for sure.

“We were hoping he would run well in the Prix du Jockey Club after winning the Listed race at Newmarket, we honestly didn’t think he would win it but he did.”

Gosden’s Lord North won the Prince of Wales’s Stakes at the Royal meeting for his first Group One triumph and reappears for the first time since finishing third to Ghaiyyath in the Juddmonte International at York in August.

“He put in a great run in the Prince of Wales’s and he is another one that has come up through the ranks. He is talented and is in exceptionally good form. He likes the track and he should handle the ground and I hope he runs a really solid race for us,” said Gosden.

“The standard is set by Magical, let’s hope he is good enough to give her a race. James (Doyle) felt he was spinning his wheels all the way at York and that he wasn’t comfortable. He said he wasn’t really getting hold of the ground so to that extent he felt he didn’t show his true ability.”

Addeybb chased Magical home last year and his trainer William Haggas reports his mud-loving six-year-old to be ready for the rematch after a convincing success in the Doonside Cup at Ayr.

“It’s a tough race. He’s very well and will enjoy the ground. We’re hoping for the best,” he said.

“It was a much weaker race he won at Ayr, but he had to have a run. He needed a race before he got going. That was good.”

Jerome Reynier knows the challenge facing Skalleti, who won the Prix Dollar for the second successive year earlier this month.

“We’re pretty happy with him. He has been training in Chantilly and is training well,” said Reynier.

“It is the toughest race in his career and there is only two weeks between his last race and Saturday, which is not long. We’ve been managing his career and giving him time between his races and this time that won’t be the case, so that’s a little concern.

“He can handle any ground, I think, but he is much better on heavy ground and other horses are not as happy with that, so the softer the ground the better.

“It’s a good achievement for us to bring a horse like this to run on Champions Day and we are going with confidence.”

William Muir has no concerns about dropping Pyledriver down in trip after his run over half a mile further in the St Leger when he was third.

“He’s very well. Everything has gone swimmingly with him since the Leger. He’s in good shape so we’re looking forward to Saturday. It’s great to be involved in it,” said the Lambourn trainer.

“The trip doesn’t worry me at all. When Martin (Dwyer) pulled up after winning the Great Voltigeur he said on the telly ‘I don’t know about going up to a mile and six for the Leger, I’d rather drop back to a mile and a quarter’.

“He’s got so many gears. All the Leger did was take his gears away.

“Next season is going to be phenomenal for him because he’ll be bigger and stronger. He’s got bigger and stronger since the Leger. He’s really starting to mature and we’re in good shape.”

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