Friday 15 December 2017

Waley-Cohen looking forward to a clear run at Kempton's top prize

Long Run's millionaire jockey has been a target for criticism, but he's learned to handle whatever life has in store, writes Ronan Groome

Sam Waley-Cohen had to deal with a range of emotions when he returned to the unsaddling area on Long Run after the Betfair Chase at Haydock last month.

There was the obvious disappointment of losing, a beaten favourite in the race for the second year running. And there was a sense of frustration that it was at the hands of Messrs Walsh and Nicholls, not with Kauto Star this time, but with second-season chaser Silviniaco Conti.

Then there were the positives. A reverse of form with The Giant Bolster, which had finished ahead of them in the Gold Cup, was an improvement. More importantly, they hadn't gotten into a one-on-one slugfest as they had in the race last year. This time it was a solid pipe-opener for the season that lay ahead.

However, Waley-Cohen could be certain of one thing – there was going to be criticism. It had never been far away since the beginning of his association with the horse owned by his father.

"This will be my fourth year riding Long Run and there's always been a great deal of hype around the whole thing. It swings from some praise and appreciation to hard pessimism, but in each case you've just got to take it with a pinch of salt and sit down and analyse what you did right and what you did wrong," says the 30-year-old.

The attention on Waley-Cohen has always been just as much as, if not more than, on Long Run. A self-made millionaire businessman, a skier, a mountain climber, a bungee-jumper and a very good friend of royal couple William and Kate, having played an important role in bringing the pair back together.

He has always been in horse racing for the fun of it and has made no secret of the fact that the sport is a hobby for him. He has noticed how media coverage and perception amongst punters has changed for him.

In 2010 he was a young man living a dream he wasn't supposed to be living and the majority of the racing public embraced his story. A year later he was an undeserving rich boy, who simply had to get off Long Run for the good of the horse. Through no fault of his own or that of the horse, he also found himself a part villain in the magical Kauto Star story.

"Racing has so many narratives running through it, but how other people feel about what you are doing is not that relevant. It's all part of the story," he explains.

"Most of all it was just a great honour to be racing with Kauto Star and most times we went into races thinking that if we are going to get beat, we'd rather it be by him."

Racing and horses have always been a part of Waley-Cohen's life. He started off riding in point-to-points purely for the fun of riding big strapping chasers over fences. Then he rode Libertine to win the Mildmay of Flete Chase at the 2005 Cheltenham Festival, and a realisation dawned that being able to race-ride against the best jockeys in the best races was an achievable goal.

That race came only six months after Sam's brother, Thomas, died of cancer at the age of 20. Ever since, racing has been something of a refuge for the Waley-Cohen family, and Long Run has been the catalyst.

"He's just a wonderful horse and he's been unbelievable for us. He puts his heart and soul into everything and this is now our fifth season with him. He's never finished outside the top three and he's only raced in the very top races," he says.

Indeed, Long Run's consistency has been somewhat overlooked in many of his assessments, yet it is an invaluable characteristic in any horse, especially at the top level.

Many experts believe the son of Cadoudal is a stamina-merchant now, that the Grand National could be right up his alley, and Waley-Cohen agrees that Long Run has matured in this way by developing a higher cruising speed through his races, but less of kick at the end.

That, in theory, should be a problem back around Kempton, but the amateur isn't worried, as Long Run felt as good as ever after a schooling session last Wednesday and, significantly, his form at the track reads 112 from two King Georges and a Grade One Feltham Chase.

A repeat of the performance he produced to finish close second to Kauto Star last season, and Sam Waley-Cohen will only have to contend with one emotion when he returns this time.

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