Long Run on course for King George bid
A question mark still hangs over the participation of Grands Crus in the King George VI Chase at Kempton, but connections of Long Run are intent on regaining the coveted crown.
Long Run's King George and Gold Cup wins in 2010-11 had appeared to seal a succession, but Kauto Star avenged himself with a record fifth success at Kempton last year.
Now that Paul Nicholls' charge has been pensioned off, something of his vintage quality will attach to Long Run himself. If it seems premature to identify a horse not yet eight years old as some bastion of the old guard, the fact remains that Nicky Henderson's charge was a very early starter.
But it is precisely because Long Run has already achieved so much that his owner can perceive a somewhat cyclical quality in his profile.
"It's possible the Gold Cup he won as a six-year-old might have taken a hell of a lot out of him," owner Robert Waley-Cohen said. "Of course, it's also possible Kauto Star was just a very good horse when we ran against him last year.
"But I just suspect that those races came home to roost in the Gold Cup, when he definitely wasn't himself."
The jury remains out on Long Run's restoration following last month's defeat by Silviniaco Conti at Haydock, but he has a habit of needing his comeback and saw things out well after proving too fresh in the early stages.
"I thought he ran much better this time," Waley-Cohen said. "The race was not run to suit and he would have found that ground a bit tricky as well.
"We were always worried there wouldn't be enough pace, and that's exactly what happened – but we didn't want to leave the rest of his season behind in a terrific battle there."
Grands Crus has also been an early starter, but since running out an impressive winner of the Feltham Novices' Chase over course and distance 12 months ago, the seven-year-old has only appeared twice since – disappointing on both occasions at Cheltenham.
Trainer David Pipe sought the advice of vet Geoff Lane, who suggested a procedure to cauterise his palate to improve breathing. "I don't think he's in full swing yet, but he's very well and I think David's very happy with him," said part-owner Roger Stanley. "We want to see the real Grands Crus come back."
Champion trainer Nicholls is still getting used to life after Kauto Star.
Now the great champion has been retired, the two representatives from Ditcheat will be Paddy Power winner Al Ferof and Kauto Star's half-brother Kauto Stone, which impressed on his comeback at Down Royal.
Nicholls does have a headache as his second jockey Daryl Jacob is contesting a suspension which would rule him out. "Ruby Walsh has ridden Al Ferof through his career and Daryl won on Kauto Stone at Down Royal," he said. "Daryl will ride if he can get off the suspension, but if he can't, then we'll find the best available."
Meanwhile, Henderson's assistant has warned defending champion Binocular is not a certain starter in the Christmas Hurdle. JP McManus' gelding has won the Grade One twice before, beating Rock On Ruby last season before finishing fourth to the same rival in the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham.
Charlie Morlock said: "He came back into training a little later and might not get to Kempton." (© Independent News Service)