ROLL on Aintree. This was the upbeat assessment of champion trainer Nicky Henderson after Long Run returned to winning ways for the first time in nearly 14 months.
Victory in Kelso’s Ivan Straker Memorial Chase may have been one of the less celebrated successes in the career of the 2011 Cheltenham Gold Cup hero, but it was an important confidence-booster for a much-loved horse who has struggled to recover his old form since being heavily defeated in Wetherby’s Charlie Hall Chase last November.
The opposition was modest and Long Run only pulled clear of Ladbrokes World Hurdle contender Knockara Beau after the final fence to record his 15th career win from 30 starts, but Henderson was content with the horse’s performance under jockey Sam Waley-Cohen.
As revealed by yesterday’s Yorkshire Post, the Crabbie’s Grand National rather than the Gold Cup will be the horse’s intended big race target and Henderson does not intend to deviate from this plan of attack.
“It was just nice to see him get his head in front and get back on track,” he said.
“The Betfair Chase never seems to suit him and he never got in the firing line in the King George.
“He’s been a little bit off target, but the conditions of this race did give him an amazing chance. It was obvious.
“He’s spent his life racing around Cheltenhams, Ascots, Kemptons and Auteuils, but this is a great place to come to and it was a fantastic opportunity to get him back on track before we decide where we are going to go.
“The principal objective is the Grand National. His jumping has got much more professional and he was good there (yesterday); the only times he got in a bit close were when he wanted to go a little bit quicker.
“I said to Sam to ride him like a good horse and get a lead and the hardest thing was to stop him going to the front.
“The horse has enjoyed himself and that was the main objective.
“I think the Gold Cup is looking pretty competitive at the moment, but we’ll keep an eye on it, otherwise Aintree is where we’d really like to go.”
Tomorrow’s Betfred Grand National Trial at Haydock has lost some of its lustre following the defections of Michael Scudamore’s ante-post Aintree favourite Monbeg Dude and the Alan King-trained Scottish National Godsmejudge.
Monbeg Dude, whose co-owners include Otley-born rugby union international Mike Tindall, scoped badly while King said he did not want to take any chances with Godsmejudge. Haydock’s loss could be Doncaster’s gain – Scudamore nominated the William Hill Grimthorpe Handicap Chase on March 1 as an alternative target.
Heading the weights at Haydock for the three-mile-five-furlong handicap chase is the Donald McCain-trained Across The Bay, which set a scorching pace in last year’s National under young Middleham jockey Henry Brooke before fading in the closing stages as Auroras Encore galloped to a famous Yorkshire victory for Sue and Harvey Smith.
Auroras Encore’s owners Douglas Pryde and Jim Beaumont will be represented in this year’s National by the Smith-trained Mr Moonshine, but they accept that the horse’s weight allocation of 10st 12lb may prove decisive after the horse galloped to victory at Warwick last Saturday.
“Mr Moonshine was a very good novice and has won his last two races so we cannot be unhappy with that. The handicapper has a difficult job and we have to live with his decision,” said Pryde.
“If the ground was good, we know the horse loves the course and can jump the fences. We go to Aintree with confidence but it could well be someone else’s turn this year.”
Paul Nicholls could give his main Betfred Cheltenham Gold Cup hope Silviniaco Conti a racecourse gallop in the next 10 days to sharpen up the horse’s fitness.
A faller three fences from home in last year’s blue riband race, Wetherby’s 2012 Charlie Hall Chase winner has not raced since winning the King George VI Chase at Kempton on Boxing Day.
“I watched the Gold Cup again the other day,” said Nichols. “He was travelling really well and I suspect he would have finished first or second if not for falling, but who knows?
“They are all good horses in the Gold Cup. Bobs Worth is unbeaten at Cheltenham and he’s probably the one we’ve all got to beat.”
In support will be Rocky Creek, who returned from a minor hiccup after his second place in the Hennessy to fill the same position behind The Giant Bolster in last month’s Argento Chase around Prestbury Park.
In contrast to Long Run, the Gold Cup – rather than the National – will be his objective.