Champ gave Mark Walsh a spare ride to remember when regaining the winning thread in the Doom Bar Sefton Novices’ Hurdle at Aintree.
Walsh, who won the Champion Hurdle on Espoir D’Allen, took his chance after Barry Geraghty was hurt in a fall in the Topham and taken for examination on a suspected leg injury.
He bided his time on the Nicky Henderson-trained seven-year-old, before delivering him to challenge in the straight.
Leading two out, the 9-4 favourite bounded clear to strike from Emitom and Lisnagar Oscar, in the process going one place better than in the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham last month.
Henderson said: “We very nearly switched him this morning (to Saturday).
“I rang Barry three times, JP (McManus, owner) and I talked for hours – just with the change in the ground we thought about bringing him back to run him in the two-and-a-half-mile race instead.
“Then Barry couldn’t decide and I couldn’t. The only thing I wanted to do was to find out if he stayed three miles for next year. To be fair they didn’t go any great gallop. We stuck with it to tell us where we go next season. He will go chasing.
“It looks as though he is starting to live up to his name. He has just got the most lovely nature and temperament, I’m not talking about McCoy (Sir Anthony McCoy), I’m talking about the horse by the way!”
He added: “To be fair I ran the wrong horse (Birchdale) in the three-miler at Cheltenham. Maybe I got Cheltenham all wrong.
“Birchdale should have been in the two and a half and maybe he should have been in the three. I just hope Barry is not too bad. He doesn’t need to be doing that at this stage of his career.”
Warren Greatrex said of Emitom: “He’s run great. I just think the winner got first run on us. He was staying on all the way to the line, he’s a high-class horse and an exciting horse for next year.
“I thought we were in business halfway up the straight. He’s stepped at the last hurdle, but I don’t think he lost a lot of momentum.
“It was his first time in a Grade One and it’s just good that he hasn’t disappointed.
“I think the first two are high-class horses. We’ll regroup and go again next year.
“I think that will be it for this season. He’s going to do so well for a summer and I think he could be a Stayers’ Hurdle horse next year.”
Rebecca Curtis was pleased with Lisnagar Oscar and said: “Obviously Champ is a very good horse – he was rated 9lb higher than us – and they think a lot of Emitom. We were just behind him, so I’m delighted.
“I see ours as a horse who will be a better horse next season over fences.
“I think we’ll probably put him away now. There’s Punchestown, but I think it would be a lot to ask him to do Cheltenham, Aintree and Punchestown.
“He’ll be a nice novice chaser.”