HIS stable talisman may have been eclipsed by the mesmerising Kauto Star in the Betfair Chase but Nicky Henderson still expects Long Run to defend his King George VI Chase crown on Boxing Day.
Henderson points to the form of last season, where the six-year-old could only manage third in the Paddy Power Gold Cup at Cheltenham before demolishing Kauto Star at Kempton en route to Cheltenham Gold Cup glory.
“He’s very good and seems very happy in himself,” said Henderson, who showed off a handful of his Kempton contenders on a grey and windy press morning at his Lambourn stable.
“He did two canters (yesterday morning) and he won’t do any more serious work until next week.”
Henderson has had time to reflect on Long Run’s defeat at Haydock earlier this month and he remains unperturbed at the prospect of Kauto Star attempting to win an unprecedented fifth King George.
“He didn’t blow for unnecessarily long afterwards and you look back at his run in the Paddy Power and say ‘was that any better?’. This was probably better,” explained the trainer.
“Kauto beat us fair and square on the day and he could be better this year. He’s certainly going to be hard to beat and Paul Nicholls had him ready for the day.
“We were ready enough and, as he has won a King George and a Gold Cup, you don’t want him to get beaten, but he’s a real star and he still has the rest of the season to show that.”
A less likely King George starter is last season’s runner-up Riverside Theatre, who went on to win the Ascot Chase before suffering a setback.
“I put him in the race and he’s good, but it’s nearly December and he’s still cantering so I think you’d say he was unlikely,” said Henderson.
Connections of Grands Crus have not ruled out giving consideration to the Cheltenham Gold Cup for their talented novice chaser.
Last season’s Ladbrokes World Hurdle runner-up has won both of his starts over fences at Cheltenham and Newbury following his switch from smaller obstacles.
While trainer David Pipe intends to stick to novice events for the foreseeable future, he admitted the Gold Cup was “in the back of our minds”.
“It was a workmanlike performance at Newbury and he jumped well,” said Pipe.
“His jumping came under pressure up the home straight and I think you’ll probably find out in time the second horse (Sonofvic) is no slouch.
“Apart from one mistake at Cheltenham, he’s been foot perfect. He’s schooled well at home but you never know until they go in an actual race.
“I would imagine at the moment we’ll stick to the novice route. He may have an entry in the Gold Cup. We haven’t discussed it with the owners. It’s a long way off, but it’s in the back of our minds.”
In the immediate future, Pipe’s Westcountry rival Philip Hobbs believes Wishfull Thinking will not lack for pace when he drops in distance for the Tingle Creek Chase at Sandown on Saturday.
The eight-year-old has been campaigned exclusively at around two and a half miles, both over hurdles and fences, and was sixth in the Paddy Power Gold Cup on his latest start.
“He has always shown loads of pace,” said Hobbs whose exciting novice hurdler Fingal Bay will run at Sandown on Friday if the ground softens.
“It’s a bit of an experiment, really. Before Cheltenham last year we were even thinking of going three miles. Sometimes the better these horses are, the more adaptable they are in trip. It’s trying to find out which is his best trip.”