Things We Learned » Long road

Long road

You can understand why the bookmakers cut Long Run’s Gold Cup odds on the back of his King George win: it’s just in their nature.

It was a really game effort by the horse and by rider Sam Waley-Cohen, to come back at Captain Chris after they had been headed. Also, the King George is a huge prize in its own right, it was Long Run’s target, it was not just a stepping-stone to Cheltenham.

However, in viewing the race as a piece of the Gold Cup jigsaw, it is difficult to argue that Long Run’s Cheltenham claims have been enhanced. This year’s King George field was full of horses who had to prove their stamina for the trip, and whose prospects were therefore reduced by the very soft ground. Also, some of the best staying chasers around never had the race on their radar – Bobs Worth, Silviniaco Conti, Sir Des Champs or Flemenstar were never really on track for the race – and the late defections of Al Ferof and Sizing Europe served to weaken the field further.

The time of the race was slower than the time that Dynaste clocked in easily winning the Feltham Chase earlier on the day, and it was significantly comparatively slower than the time that the Waley-Cohens’ own Rajdhani Express clocked in winning the two-and-a-half-mile handicap chase earlier in the day, admittedly on ground that was probably at least a little better. Also, Long Run’s jumping again lacked fluency. He will have to jump a fair bit better if he is going to win another Gold Cup this season.

Arvika vite

Arvika Ligeonniere took another step forward when he won the Racing Post Chase at Leopardstown on Wednesday. In so doing, he proved that he could be effective over two miles, and he proved that he belonged in the top grade. He didn’t really get the chance to prove that he was in the same league as the 160-rated Oscars Well over hurdles, but we know now that he belongs in Grade 1 company over fences.

There were concerns, however. His jumping wasn’t quite the potent weapon that it had been at Punchestown and Fairyhouse in his two previous chases, and he did jump to his right on occasion, most notably at the third last fence.

Also, he had to have had a hard race. Rider Paul Townend said afterwards that he was just idling up the run-in, but he had to have been tired as well. This was his second hard race in the space of four weeks, and he may be vulnerable if he runs again in Leopardstown’s Arkle in just a few weeks’ time, over the same course and distance, left-handed again.


If you had a sense of déjà vu as you watched Jezki go clear from the final flight in the Paddy Power Future Champions Novice Hurdle on Thursday, that’s because you had seen it before. Exactly four years before, to be precise.

Jezki could only go six lengths clear of his rivals between the final flight and the line, which looks decidedly pedestrian compared to the 10 lengths that Hurricane Fly put between himself and his rivals in the same race in 2008, but the turn of foot that he showed created a similar visual impression. Not only that, but both races had strength in-depth, and both horses warmed up for the race by winning the Royal Bond Hurdle at Fairyhouse four weeks earlier.

Injury disrupted Hurricane Fly’s novice campaign, he didn’t make it to Cheltenham that year, and we had to wait until Punchestown in April 2009 for a reminder of his brilliance. Of course, Willie Mullins’s horse has more than made up for that since. Hopefully Jessica Harrington will get a clear run at Jezki now, because he is probably the most exciting novice hurdler in training.

National pointer

Prince De Beauchene is back. Off the track since he won the Bobbyjo Chase at Fairyhouse in February last year, Graham Wylie’s horse returned in a two-mile-three-furlong hurdle at Limerick on Thursday.

His performance on the track did not reflect his weakness in the market as, always travelling kindly for Emmet Mullins, he took it up with just under a circuit to run, had seen off Clonbannon Lad by the time they reached the end of the back straight, and always looked to be travelling better than the unexposed and potentially useful Venture Capital all the way up the home straight. JP McManus’s horse did find plenty for pressure, and did mount a challenge of sorts over the final flight, but Prince De Beauchene had plenty in the locker, and he just eased clear on the run-in under a minimal amount of effort from this rider.

It wasn’t surprising that some bookmakers promoted the Willie Mullins-trained gelding to the top of their Grand National ante post betting on the back of this run, but even the 20/1 that they are quoting now is interesting. A high-class handicap chaser when trained by Howard Johnson two years ago, Prince De Beauchene was favourite for the 2012 Grand National after he won the Bobbyjo Chase last year, before injury intervened. He will be 10 in two days, he will be just about the ideal age for the Grand National this year, and he is a major player again this year.

Henderson week

It was some King George meeting for Nicky Henderson. For starters, he won the feature race itself with Long Run, who showed remarkable tenacity, if perhaps not optimum fluency, in getting back up after he had been headed by Captain Chris.

He won the Christmas Hurdle with Darlan, who has taken another step up the steep upward curve that started in the Betfair Hurdle last February and who now goes on soft ground to boot. He is even more exciting now than he was before Wednesday’s race, and he is a deserved Champion Hurdle favourite.

The Seven Barrows trainer sent out Simonsig to win the Wayward Lad Chase, his second win this season and in five days, and he is now a shorter price for the Arkle than the same trainer’s Sprinter Sacre was when he won the same race at the same time last year.

And for good measure, Henderson also won two of the other 10 races run at the two-day meeting. That’s five of a total of 13 races run at the meeting – 38%, including the big ones.

Henderson is now responsible for at least one of the first three favourites in the ante post market for seven of the 10 Grade 1 races over jumps at the 2013 Cheltenham Festival, and that is a quite incredibly strong hand to hold.

© The Irish Field, 30th December 2012