Kauto camp throw down gauntlet to Long Run
AHEAD of their eagerly awaited showdown in the King George VI Chase, Kauto Star's trainer Paul Nicholls has thrown down the gauntlet to the Long Run camp by casting doubt over whether the reigning champion will emerge a much-improved horse when the pair renew rivalry.
The last renewal of the King George saw Kauto Star manage only third, beaten 19 lengths by Long Run, and he managed little better in the Cheltenham Gold Cup. But Nicholls has taken great heart from the fact Kauto Star finished well in front of his Nicky Henderson-trained rival in last month's Betfair Chase at Haydock.
Explaining the decision to run his stalwart alongside Master Minded, which is also owned by Clive Smith, the trainer said: "I had a chat with Clive as well as the lad who rides him every day and we felt that when they are really well, you've got to run them."
Ruby Walsh will ride Kauto Star, with Daryl Jacob on Master Minded.
"My gut instinct immediately after Haydock was to put Kauto away for the Gold Cup," Nicholls admitted. "But he astounds me, this horse. He had a hard race there, but has just recovered so well.
"I said to Clifford (Baker) that it was time we made a decision. 'You ride him every day,' I said, 'where do you think he is?' And he just said, 'he's so well, you've got to run him.' For whatever reason, I think he's a better horse this season.
"Last year he was making a noise, and he bled after Kempton. I know Long Run will improve for Haydock, but the fact is he's got eight lengths to find with us. You're not going to run a horse like Long Run in a £200,000 Grade One race at Haydock needing the run too much, no matter what Nicky says.
"I don't think there's going to be as much improvement as people think. You don't run a six-year-old as good as him unless you're fairly straight."
Long Run's regular rider, Sam Waley-Cohen, endured a scare yesterday when it was feared a 12-day suspension could force him to miss the race.
That was the scenario which briefly beckoned when the Fakenham stewards banned Waley-Cohen for taking the wrong course on Otage De Brion. In a clear lead with a circuit to go, he had bypassed the fence in front of the stands.
"I thought he'd swallowed his tongue," Waley-Cohen said. "He landed and made a hell of a noise. He's had an operation before, and we normally have a tongue-tie on, but didn't today. I knew where I was going. I accept it doesn't look good."
His father, Robert, had indicated that Barry Geraghty -- stable jockey to Henderson -- would be the most likely substitute. On learning of his son's reprieve, he declared: "It's a huge relief, and I'm thrilled for Sam to be able to show what he's made of."
Meanwhile, Nicholls has announced Noland as his replacement for Denman in the Lexus Chase at Leopardstown on December 28, with owner John Hales agreeing to supplement the 2008 winner of the John Durkan Memorial.
Edward O'Grady's Sailors Warn and the Willie Mullins-trained Tawaagg are the two Irish representatives left in Saturday's Ladbroke Handicap Hurdle at Ascot. Ante-post favourite Prospect Wells heads a field of 21 in the big handicap.
Apart from the Graham Wylie-owned novice, which has won two of his three starts, Nicholls is also responsible for top-weight Brampour and Tonic Mellysse.
At Wolverhampton yesterday, evergreen sprinter The Tatling brought the curtain down on his racing career with a fairytale victory.
Making his 176th and final racecourse appearance as a 14-year-old, trainer Milton Bradley's pride and joy was searching for an unlikely victory in the sprint handicap. The 2004 King's Stand winner was slowly away, but Richard Kingscote was happy to play the waiting game in the rear.
Grand Stitch looked to have stolen a march on his rivals rounding the turn for home but, once angled out wide, The Tatling rattled home to get up on the line for a short-head win, the 18th of his career.
"I know it was only a small race, but what a wonderful story. The horse is still a star in our eyes," said Bradley. "He's one of those you drop on by mistake and spend the rest of your life looking for another one half as good."