It is not just the bricks and mortar of a stable that once housed his mentor's champion steeplechasers that link Martin Keighley to the late David Nicholson. Though still in the early stages of his own training career, it is already apparent that Keighley absorbed a good deal more than Nicholson's trademark strictures when riding the likes of Viking Flagship and Barton Bank on the gallops at Condicote. Sure enough, he was handsomely vindicated when electing to pitch the best horse he has trained so far straight into a Grade Two race, up the road at Cheltenham in November. And he is hoping that Champion Court will once again endorse his judgement in the opener at Leicester today.
While many other Festival candidates will be converging for the trials card at Cheltenham on Saturday, Keighley has decided Champion Court did enough on his hurdling debut to warrant a less exacting build-up. Mind you, he was by no means complacent yesterday. "I was hoping for a weaker race than it has turned out to be," he admitted. "There are one or two very nice horses in there. The other division would have been easier, but I suppose if he can't win this race he won't be winning the Albert Bartlett, will he?"
Quoted at around 10-1 for the three-mile novice championship at the Festival, Champion Court must give 7lb to Glitzy d'Ocala, who won a bumper by 15 lengths at Exeter on New Year's Day. But he certainly looked an authentic class act on his sole start over timber, produced late and charging seven lengths clear of Sybarite. "The idea had been just to give him a bit of an education," Keighley said, "so it was impressive to see the way he quickened up. And the form has been franked by the runner-up, who was second in a really good race at Kempton the other day and might have won had he jumped a bit better."
Having won a bumper in Ireland a few days previously, Champion Court fetched the sort of money at the sales last May, £130,000, that would make any emerging trainer nervous. "But we've always thought the world of him," Keighley said. "He works very well at home, and already looks like a chaser. We did rather throw him into the deep end, so it was exciting to see the way he did it."
Keighley, who proved himself ready for the next level with 27 winners last season, saddles Ikorodu Road in the Sky Bet Chase at Doncaster on Saturday. "He was very unlucky at Newbury last time," he said. "He seemed to have the race won when he unseated at the last. He's been put up 6lb for that, but he's going the right way."
Chilla Cilla (2.10 Leicester)
Much improved since fitted with tongue tie and switched to fences by new stable.
French Ties (3.0 Sedgefield)
Comfortable winner of equivalent prize last year and easily forgiven defeat in comeback spin, in too sharp a test.
One to watch
Daldini (Sue Smith) was last of four finishers at Newcastle the other day but did well to hang in there for as long as he did, having set an excessive pace.
Where the money's going
Kalahari King is 12-1 from 16-1 with Totesport for the Queen Mother Champion Chase.Reuse content