By Nick Seddon of The Jockey Club
Barry Geraghty is backing Champ to win next month’s WellChild Cheltenham Gold Cup and insists his former partner is “the biggest threat to Al Boum Photo” after being impressed by his performance at Newbury on Sunday.
The Irishman retired as the second most successful jockey in The Festival’s history on 43 winners after capping a remarkable week at Cheltenham last year with a stunning victory on board Champ in the RSA Insurance Novices’ Chase (now Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase).
So Geraghty was a keen observer at the weekend when the nine-year-old returned to the track for the first time since that day last March to finish second in the Grade Two Betfair Game Spirit Chase over two miles.
Writing in his first blog as an ambassador for The Festival™ supporting WellChild he told thejockeyclub.co.uk: “It was interesting watching him run at Newbury with Nico de Boinville on his back on Sunday. He was brilliant, I thought.
Watch how Geraghty and Champ triumphed at the Festival in 2020
“His jumping was better. In the RSA last year his jumping wasn’t as fluent. He didn’t school as well beforehand for whatever reason – but he was a little bit more limited and wasn’t showing the same amount of scope going into the RSA for whatever reason as he showed at the weekend - he was on springs.
“I think he’s the biggest threat to Al Boum Photo in the Gold Cup. It’s very hard to put anything else in front of him and Al Boum Photo is there as defending champion. Champ’s run at Newbury would be a better level of form than Al Boum Photo has going into the race, but you’re taking it on trust because he took the same route last year and the year before.
“I’d be siding with Champ. If he can put it all together again at Cheltenham like he did on Sunday then Al Boum Photo will need to bring his A-game.”
Geraghty also admits he is still getting used to the idea of not riding at The Festival this year, a sporting occasion he likens to football’s “Champions League Final”.
He explains: “I’ll admit straight away that it’s going to be strange not riding at Cheltenham this year. It’s such a buzz and your whole season is just geared around getting there.
“From the time your winter horses come in from their holidays, you’re thinking about which ones will be good enough for The Festival and as a jockey you want to get there in once piece. It’s your Champions League Final and while I can’t tell you how many winners I’ve had at Aintree, Punchestown or Fairyhouse, I can tell you how many I’ve had at Cheltenham - and I can name them.
“I knew going into last year’s Festival that it was going to be my last and with that in mind I was desperate to have a winner. It doesn’t matter which race it comes in, but winning the Champion Hurdle with Epatante meant the world to me.
“I probably showed more emotion riding winners at Cheltenham last year than I had done for a long time because I knew it was my last one, so to get Epatante in on the first day was the perfect way to start.
“I’m looking forward to seeing Epatante defend her Champion Hurdle title. She holds a special place in my heart after our win last year and if she brings her best on the day, I think she’s the one to beat.”
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