DESPITE the fact that I backed Long Run in the King George at Kempton, his win has not made me any more confident about his Cheltenham Gold Cup chances and I'm happy to keep an open mind for now.
Certainly, he has plenty of guts and a huge heart and that's what got him over the line at the expense of Captain Chris. However, his jumping was far from fluent and, in the end, it was stamina which just about papered over the cracks.
He'll most likely take in the Denman Chase next, but unless the ground comes up heavy in March (which is very unlikely), he won't get away with sloppiness in the Gold Cup when faced with the likes of Bobs Worth on better ground.
Don't get me wrong, I'm not trying to downplay what he's achieved and regular readers will know that I've often said he's underrated. But to win the top races these days, he needs the ground conditions and pace to fall just right, so it was a little surprising to see at least two bookmakers cut his price for Cheltenham's Blue Riband after Kempton – though Gold Cup prices have been revised following Tidal Bay's victory in the Lexus Chase.
Speaking of Cheltenham, this afternoon's Challow Novices' Hurdle at Newbury (2.45) might give us a few Festival clues and can go the way of Clondaw Kaempfer trained by Donald McCain, priced around 2/1. A half-brother to the useful hurdler Its A Dream, he kicked off his career by winning a valuable bumper at Fairyhouse in April for Colin Bowe before being sold for £130,000 and sent across the water to go hurdling.
He put his point-to-point experience to good use in his first novice hurdle at Aintree in October, drawing easily clear of his three rivals on heavy ground and followed up that victory with another win last time out in a listed novice hurdle at Haydock.
His latest race was over two miles, which seemed a bit short, so it's good to see him move up in distance and he's definitely one to keep an eye on. It's no secret that McCain thinks highly of the Oscar gelding and he's bound to be popular in the betting for one of the Cheltenham novice hurdle contests.
Another interesting entry is Jonjo O'Neill's French import Taquin Du Seuil (5/2), which won a Grade Two novice hurdle at Sandown this month. O'Neill has stated that he's the best novice he has in training and describes him as " Cheltenham Festival class." We'll find out today just how classy those two horses are.
Above The Stars is worth backing each-way in the 32Red Casino Handicap on the Polytrack at Dunstall Park (2.05) if the daughter of Piccolo goes off at a double figure price as forecasted.
The Richard Fahey trained four-year-old ran poorly here a couple of weeks ago, but had earlier put in some solid performances on the artificial surface –hitting the crossbar a couple of times without actually winning.
While she has recorded only two wins from 21 career outings, the handicapper has let her mark slide quite a bit since her last victory at Pontefract back in August. If Barry McHugh can get her out into her preferred front-running position early on, she should finish in the money once again this afternoon.
1.35 Newbury: Module
2.45 Newbury: Clondaw Kaempfer
2.0 Leopardstown: Hurricane Fly
2.05 Wolver'pton: Above The Stars (e/w)
• Wednesday's double was successful on both legs at an overall price of 15/8.