HOW times change. One of a great triumvirate of steeplechasers alongside the now retired Kauto Star and Denman, the 2011 Cheltenham Gold Cup winner Long Run heads to Kelso today in a bid to get his faltering career back on track.
Still only nine-years-old, Nicky Henderson’s warrior is winless since galloping through the mud to win the 2012 King George at Kempton and he will miss next month’s blue riband Betfred Gold Cup in preference to an audacious tilt at the Crabbie’s Grand National.
With the second top weight of 11st 9lb for the Aintree showpiece, Long Run needs to win today’s four-runner Ivan Straker Memorial Chase at the Scottish Borders track to demonstrate to connections – not least owner Robert Waley-Cohen and his son Sam who will be in the saddle – that the former champion is still in love with the jumping game.
It will not be a formality – his opponents do include Northumberland trainer George Charlton’s Knockara Beau who sprang a 66-1 surprise at Cheltenham last month when beating the record-breaking Big Buck’s in the Cleeve Hurdle.
“A couple of years ago we would never have run Long Run in the National but we are adjusting with him,” said Henderson. “We have accepted he is not a Gold Cup horse today and we have to look onwards and upwards at different things he can do. His jumping technique is now very good, it’s more anglais than franglais!
“The Ivan Straker Memorial Chase is very appropriate because Ivan played a big part in saving the Grand National. I trained The Tsarevich for Ivan to come second in 1987.”
In many respects, Long Run’s pursuit of new horizons after a series of disappointing results, including a comprehensive defeat in Wetherby’s bet365 Charlie Hall Chase, marks the end of an era – this year’s Gold Cup is set to be the first since 2006 not to feature the Henderson horse or the Paul Nicholls pair of Kauto Star and Denman.
Yet it will be to Long Run’s advantage that the going at Kelso is forecast to be little worse than ‘good to soft’ – Northern courses have done well to escape the worst of the elements, even though a covering of snow greeted those horses being exercised on Middleham’s gallops at daybreak yesterday. A string of inspections are planned for fixtures this weekend, although Haydock still hope to go ahead with Saturday’s Betfred Grand National Trial.
Meanwhile, AP McCoy, the soon-to-be 19-time champion jockey, is already turning his sights to next month’s Gold Cup and has advised punters not to discount the Irish contender Last Instalment, who was a slightly surprising winner of the Irish Hennessy last Sunday for trainer Philip Fenton and jockey Brian O’Connell.
“I thought he was very impressive. I had viewed the Gold Cup as a two-horse race between Bobs Worth and Silviniaco Conti for much of the season, but Last Instalment is right in there with them,” said McCoy.
“He jumped very well on Sunday and would probably want a bit of cut in the ground at Cheltenham, which he might get given the way things are at the moment. Harry Topper won okay at Newbury the day before and he, like The Giant Bolster, is a very consistent horse. One of those two will probably finish fourth in the Gold Cup but the form of the top three is just that much stronger.”
Significantly from a betting perspective, McCoy is sweet on the chances of Carlingford Lough in the RSA Chase at Cheltenham next month despite his unfortunate mishap at Leopardstown on Sunday.
The Galway Plate winner, who has also claimed a Grade One novice chase this season, was in the process of being involved in the finish of the Dr P.J. Moriarty Chase when he was short of room at the final fence and unshipped the champion.
“He has a serious each-way chance in the RSA,” added McCoy.
“I got squeezed for room at the last and my foot got knocked out of the iron, which I didn’t realise until I went to put it down and I unseated.
“But he was staying on well and I rate his RSA chances.”
n Sheikh Mohammed has been exonerated from any direct involvement in the Godolphin doping scandal.
The Emirati ruler and leading owner instructed the former Metropolitan Police chief commissioner Lord Stevens to review the damaging series of reports last year concerning his equestrian operations, including 2012 Ladbrokes St Leger winner Encke.