Sunday 20 August 2017

Long Run shatters Star's drive for five

Ian McClean

the billing for AP McCoy's dream alliance with record-seeking Kauto Star at Kempton's rescheduled fixture might have read 'history man takes the history ride.' But the fairytale wish for a fifth consecutive King George failed to materialise in front of an enthusiastic 15,000-strong crowd at the overcast Sunbury venue.

We had three weeks longer than anticipated to sharpen our appetite for the deferred Christmas main course and the race itself -- in spite of the result -- didn't disappoint. However, instead of a coronation, spectators witnessed a dethroning by the young pretender Long Run, which has threatened as much since he burst on the scene at this very meeting a year ago in the Grade One Feltham Chase.

In truth, the result was a reinforcement of one of life's great narratives -- Youth v Age. It is certainly (as well as one other) one of the most cherished and repeated narratives woven into the fibre of the National Hunt game: the changing of the guard as the youthful six-year-old topples the 11-year-old champion; moreover, where else would you find a sport in which an unpaid part-timer can beat the most successful jockey of all time who happens to be reigning Sports Personality of the Year in one of its most blue-chip events?

The shorthand version of yesterday's race is that of an upward trajectory eclipsing a downward one. In other words the much-hyped Long Run produced the best run of his young life -- which he has threatened to do for some time -- while Kauto produced his worst for some time. The writing was on the wall early for the history-seeker as he seemed laboured and never really travelled with his usual zest. A philosophical Paul Nicholls admitted as much afterwards, saying he was never happy with the horse at any stage of the race and that he "always looked to be struggling".

His uncharacteristic tendency to jump out to his left wasn't helping his cause on this tight right-hander either. Passing the stands with a circuit to race, Kauto and Long Run were within half a length of each other as they followed trail-blazing Nacarat. In essence, that sequence maintained itself throughout until the home straight as nothing else threatened to land a blow.

At that point Nacarat cried enough as Long Run went on. McCoy followed on king Kauto, but under duress as he had already resorted to the persuader. It showed the character of the horse that he closed to within two lengths by the second last. But the exertions caused Kauto to make a juddering blunder which all but decanted McCoy, and with it his chance of history.

This allowed Riverside Theatre to run on to complete a famous one-two for the Nicky Henderson team. Francis Bacon in his essay 'Of Youth and Age' wrote: "The errors of young men, are the ruin of business; but the errors of aged men, amount but to this, that more might have been done, or sooner." It is true that "errors" were once the preserve of Long Run -- but not yesterday -- while Kauto could hardly be accused of not having done more, or sooner.

Long Run, by the admission of his young jockey Sam Waley-Cohen, was in danger of falling into the folly of youth's errors with a mistake at the very first obstacle. But that only served to galvanise the amateur rider to "go for bust" as he resolved to "ask him up at every fence" after that. The decision was the making of both man and horse, and the winning of the race.

The Nicky Henderson yard won a total of five races on the diamond-encrusted card and provided AP with consolation when Binocular won the other Grade One on the card.

Historically, six previous defending Champion Hurdle winners had tried their luck in the Christmas Hurdle without success, but that statistic was well and truly binned by a no-nonsense Binocular, which looked every inch the champion he appeared last March.

Given an untypically aggressive ride for the horse -- not the jockey -- Binocular kept the Northumberland Plate-winning pacesetter Overturn on the hook throughout the sharp two miles. Once again, the unrelenting gallop meant that nothing else got into the race bar the front two, which went at the first hurdle like quarter-horses and kept up the gallop to the line.

McCoy was fairly circumspect, suggesting the win "was still a fair bit below his Champion Hurdle form" but trainer Nicky Henderson was more sanguine, declaring himself "very impressed". The bookies certainly were, and he is as short as 5/2 to retain his crown in what is brewing up to be a vintage year.

Long Run apparently wore earplugs for the very first time yesterday. It's amazing what can happen when you stop listening to the hype.

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