Sacre stars as Long Run fails to convince
On probably the most informative day of Cheltenham trials this season, Long Run, Sprinter Sacre and Zarkandar warmed up with victories in their respective dress rehearsals at Newbury's rescued Betfair meeting.
But, as always, there will be different interpretations of the bare results. Although Long Run showed a decent rhythm and flow for the first time this season and looked in fine fettle ahead of his Gold Cup defence bid, bookmakers took the opposite view.
Almost all firms lengthened him in the betting after he beat Burton Port by half a length in the Betfair Denman Chase and shortened Kauto Star. Ladbrokes had them 5/2 joint favourites last night and, given his popularity, it is possible that Kauto Star will start favourite on the day.
In both the Betfair Chase and King George, Long Run's jumping had been littered with little errors, but yesterday, apart from a casual mistake at the water, he was good.
He picked up the front-running The Giant Bolster in a few strides when Sam Waley-Cohen wanted and, having been in front from four out, the jockey felt he would have found more had Burton Port, having his first run for 14 months, come at him harder.
He may have given the appearance of having substituted a gear for more stamina this season but he did set an unofficial course record yesterday.
"That was very smooth," said Nicky Henderson, who trains both Long Run and Burton Port. "I'm delighted. Sam said there's loads there. It was much more fluent and together. Burton Port (now 10/1 third favourite) has been amazing us all. He'll go for the Gold Cup too."
Waley-Cohen added: "Everything about him was more up for it. It was as good a prep as you could hope for."
Henderson had already had a good start to the day when the extremely impressive Sprinter Sacre joined the list of Festival 'bankers' with a facile six-length victory over stable companion French Opera, breaking Barnbrook Again's 22-year-old course record.
Sprinter Sacre is now evens for the Arkle and could easily join Hurricane Fly, Big Buck's and Quevega in a quartet of Festival odds-on shots.
The aim had been to get Sprinter Sacre to curb some of his exuberance but he jumped to the front before halfway and, according to jockey Barry Geraghty, eventually settled nicely "after jumping the last".
Henderson said: "Enthusiastic is a word that comes to mind. He reminds me of a young Remittance Man, although they were different horses. Both were on springs."
Zarkandar won the fiercely competitive Betfair Hurdle by a length and a quarter and appears the biggest threat to Hurricane Fly's domination in the Champion Hurdle.
"You can't buy that sort experience," said Paul Nicholls. "It was only his fourth start over hurdles. He's way stronger than last year and there'll be huge improvement between now and Cheltenham." (© Daily Telegraph, London)