» Here for the Long Run?

Here for the Long Run?

By Rory King

Sportsmen are notorious for celebrating. There is no getting away from that. We all know about the English cricket team’s shenanigans after winning the 2005 Ashes series, and how can we forget Gazza’s infamous “dentist’s chair” re-enactment after scoring against Scotland at Euro ’96.

Horse racing is a little different. Sure there are celebrations, the winners’ enclosure at Cheltenham is a very special place, especially when a well-backed favourite at the festival is welcomed in, and the Irish certainly know how to celebrate. (It does seem as though there are folks at Cheltenham who celebrate just about every single winner, which has to call into question their betting strategy!). However the tendency these days is to immediately look ahead, to a horse’s next target, or to next year’s race, and debate whether or not a big-race winner can go on and repeat his success, rather than just enjoying the moment and savouring the victory. We have been spoilt in the National Hunt game in recent times with horses winning big races multiple times and that has no doubt contributed to this as it’s led to us not willing to accept a particualr horse as a true champion until he has repeated his winning feat.

Take Long Run for example. He had won the Grade 1 Feltham Chase as a four-year-old on his British debut but had then fluffed his lines on his two biggest tests, the RSA Chase and the Paddy Power Gold Cup, which is why he may not have been given due credit for subsequently winning the King George and the Gold Cup. He bounded away from two previous Gold Cup winners in March, but, alas, therein lies the problem for Long Run doubters. Both Denman and Kauto Star were 11 in last season’s Gold Cup, and no horse older than 10 has won National Hunt’s blue riband since 1969. On good ground Long Run’s six-year-old legs simply had too much spring in them for the Ditcheat brigade. The proximity of What A Friend and Midnight Chase in fourth and fifth, neither of whom had realistic pretensions to winning a Gold Cup, another previous winner Imperial Commander going lame, and the inability of both the Lexus winner Pandorama and the Hennessy winner Kempes to handle the hustle and bustle of a good ground Gold Cup, meant that last season’s renewal (and it almost seems sacrilegious to say so) was probably not a vintage one.

Neither was the King George. OK, he did beat Riverside Theatre by 12 lengths at Kempton, but Riverside Theatre had previously come up short the three times he’d tried Grade 1 company, and his subsequent win at that level in the Ascot Chase was achieved in a poor race. Kauto Star was clearly miles below his best in last year’s King George, and with Long Run’s performance rated largely through him, maybe the six-year-old didn’t actually avhieve as much in doing the King George-Gold Cup double as previous winners of that double had done.

Prior to the last decade, which saw Kauto Star regain the Gold Cup and Best Mate win it three times on the trot, there had been no dual winner of the race since L’Escargot in 1970 and 1971. All of this makes Long Run more vulnerable this season than the market for the big races suggests, starting with the Betfair Chase at Haydock on Saturday. Even if he does go on to retain the King George and/or the Gold Cup, and there’s a good possibility that he will win one of them, there is a chance that he will not be at his peak for Saturday’s race, it is unlikely that the gun has been put to his head at Seven Barrows.

In contrast, both Weird Al and Time For Rupert have already had a race, and a very satisfactory one for both sets of connections at that, which should set them up perfectly for Haydock on Saturday. Diamond Harry clearly goes especially well first time out, and a flat three miles around Haydock should be perfect for him, he is two for two at the Lancashire track. On top of that, Paul Nicholls has said repeatedly that as soon as Kauto Star (can no longer be shortened to just ‘Kauto’ with his half-brother now on the scene) shows signs of having lost any of his enthusiasm for racing then he will be retired, so you can be pretty sure that the Star (a good way around the shortening dilemna) will be primed to run as well as he is capable of nowadays on Saturday.

All in all then, at a shade of odds on, I’d be a layer rather than a backer on Saturday.

By Rory King