Champagne could be sparkling National outsider

There are some people whose selective racing advice is always worth listening to. An enjoyable telephone conversation last night with a very good friend and fellow member of the racing press concluded with him suggesting a horse for me to “take a look at” for April’s Randox Health Grand National.

When he mentioned that the horse is still a novice I wondered if he might have taken temporary leave of his senses, and got confused with Scottish National in which novices have a good record. But the last time he suggested a National horse to “take a look at” it was a certain Jonjo O’Neill-trained Sunnyhillboy, who went on to lose the Grand National by the finest margin ever – a nose – when he was caught in the very last stride by Paul Nicholls’ gallant grey Neptune Collonges in the 2012 renewal.

A novice winning the National!

Champagne Classic is the horse this good judge feels may have slipped under the radar due to all the attention, quite rightly, focusing on Tiger Roll, his illustrious Gordon Elliott-trained stable companion and living legend. He runs in the same Gigginstown House Stud colours as the current 6/1* Grand National favourite, colours that have passed the post in front in three of the last four renewals of “the world’s greatest steeplechase”.

Yes, three of the last four. Had you forgotten Rule The World’s shock 33/1 success back in 2016 under young David Mullins? And, wait a minute, wasn’t he a novice too? He was. So maybe it’s not such a shot in the dark in suggesting that Champagne Classic, a better quality horse than Rule The World, might have a bit of an each-way squeak at current odds of 33/1*.

Formerly useful young staying hurdler

Champagne Classic is one of those horses that promised so much but disappeared from view for a long time before reappearing last season as a novice chaser. A very useful novice hurdler in the 2016/17 season, he won the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys Handicap Hurdle at the 2017 Cheltenham Festival, then the following month proved that absolutely no fluke when beating the subsequent Stayers’ Hurdle winner Penhill in the Grade 1 Irish Daily Mirror Novice Hurdle over three miles at Punchestown.

It appears this gelded son of Stowaway has always been an underrated horse, even by those closest to him. Never held in too much regard by owner Michael O’Leary, the Ryanair boss famously teased the media by referring to Champagne Classic as “without doubt the worst horse I own” – after he had won at the Cheltenham Festival. It was particularly unfortunate that after winning his Grade 1 a few weeks later he sustained a leg injury and wasn’t seen again for a massive 641 days.

All gone to plan so far over fences

Nursed back to health by the Elliott team, the horse who has never finished out of the first three in all 14 career starts finished a promising third in a Grade 3 novice chase on his first outing over fences at Naas in January last year. Three weeks later he failed by just half a length to beat the talented Chris’s Dream – easy winner of last week’s Grade 2 Red Mills Chase at Gowran Park off a mark of 160 – in the Grade 2 Ten Up Novice Chase at Navan, but that was the only racing he sustained last winter.

Given another break, this time just eight months, Champagne Classic made a winning reappearance in October this season in a 2m5f Fairyhouse Beginners’ Chase, then beat the decent sort Discorama in a Listed event at Wexford a couple of weeks later. Returning from another two-month break, he failed by just a length to reel in his highly-touted stable companion Battleoverdoyen in the Grade 1 Neville Hotels Novice Chase at Leopardstown’s Christmas fixture; a fine effort.

When you look at the way he has been campaigned over the last two seasons you get the impression that this horse is actually held in some regard by his super-shrewd connections. They haven’t overraced him – he may not stand too much racing – but they have kept testing him against some very good horses and he has never run a bad race. All the old ability seems to be there despite that long period when he was MIA.

Cheltenham entries offer some clues

Champagne Classic holds entries at next month’s Cheltenham Festival in the 3m6f National Hunt Chase, the three-mile Grade 1 RSA Novices’ Chase, and the 2m4f Marsh Novices’ Chase (the former JLT). Those entries suggest he is considered to have plenty of stamina but also enough pace to be entered in a hot 2m4f race too. They must think he has a touch of class, just what you need to win a Grand National.

Handed a good racing weight at Aintree of 10st 6lb and certain to run as he is 34th in the list, there could be more to come from Champagne Classic who remains unexposed and has plenty going for him – just as my friend suggested.


*Odds subject to change.

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