REIGNING champion Long Run is likely to be without earplugs when he bids to defend his Cheltenham Gold Cup crown in March.
Trainer Nicky Henderson revealed yesterday his team have worked hard getting the top steeplechaser to relax, but that they may have overdone it.
Blocking out the noise of the crowd on an occasion as frenetic as the last day of the Festival is designed to have a calming effect.
But having twice suffered defeat at the hands of Kauto Star in the Betfair Chase and King George VI Chase, connections of Long Run are considering changing one or two things in the hope of reversing the form in the blue riband.
"We have spent a lot of time settling him down and have always run him in earplugs," said Henderson.
"That helps him through the preliminaries and everything else, but we've probably decided to take them out now because he is very relaxed and possibly a little bit over (relaxed). We will be changing a few things but I don't think we will be taking Kauto Star on up front. We're hoping the extra distance and hill are what are going to save us."
Henderson confirmed that Long Run could have a prep-run for Cheltenham in the Betfair Denman Chase at Newbury next month.
"The Denman Chase is a possibility. It would do him good to have another run," he said. "He's come back from the King George in great form and one's assuming Kauto is not going to go there. I wouldn't want another battle with him on the way -- two is enough so far. I'd be inclined all being well to go there. It might be a bit ground-dependent."
Meanwhile, the Paul Nicholls-trained Sonofvic will revert to hurdles following a disappointing run at Cheltenham on New Year's Day.
Having finished second to Grands Crus at Newbury, Sonofvic beat just one home in the Dipper Chase and will now return to the hurdling ranks for the rest of the season. "He ran a great race first time up over fences when second to Grands Crus at Newbury, but Monday told us that he needs more time and experience," said Nicholls.
In the wake of his battling success in the Challow Hurdle at Newbury, Fingal Bay's target at Cheltenham looks like being the Neptune Investment Management Novices' Hurdle over two and a half miles.
Philip Hobbs' youngster stretched his unbeaten run to five with his first Grade One success last weekend and the trainer feels it would be a tough ask for his charge to run over three miles for the first time in the Albert Bartlett.