LONG Run may set his own pace as the 2011 Gold Cup hero bids to reclaim his William Hill King George VI Chase crown at Kempton today.
It has not been plain sailing since the Nicky Henderson-trained gelding won a rearranged King George in January 2011 before going on to glory at Cheltenham.
Second to Kauto Star 12 months ago, he heads a field of 10 for jump racing’s Christmas cracker.
There were signs Long Run was on the way back when he was second to Silviniaco Conti in the Betfair Chase at Haydock.
“Everything has gone right. Haydock went much better this year than it did last year, probably thanks to no Kauto Star to thump him,” said Henderson.
“Okay, we got beaten, but he ran well and was probably straighter and didn’t get quite as hard a race.
“He improved dramatically from last year’s Haydock race to the King George. We only got beaten by less then two lengths by Kauto instead of eight.
“We’d expect to find that improvement, and I’d be hopeful that the ground is the one thing that can play to his strengths.
“Everything has gone well, the schooling has gone well and his work has been great. I think he goes in there with as big a chance as he had two years ago and we’d like the same again.
“We haven’t discussed making the running yet. We certainly did before the Betfair and I’ve nothing against that horse lobbing along.
“He loves his work in front and he schools on his own. He’d do anything you like.”
Henderson also has an able second-string in Riverside Theatre, who finished runner-up behind Long Run in the 2010-11 renewal.He is owned by actor Jimmy Nesbitt.
“We had a plan again with him. His first run is nearly always his best and we are going straight to the King George, no preps, nothing,” said the trainer.
“He had one racecourse gallop at Kempton. He worked seriously well and he’s just been so good first time out every year.”
Kauto Stone, a half-brother to five-times King George winner Kauto Star, takes his chance for champion trainer Paul Nicholls.
He showed three miles held no fears when striking at the first attempt in the JNwine.com Champion Chase at Down Royal, putting behind him a poor second half to last season.
Meanwhile, mudlark Junior will attempt to drag the stamina out of the opposition when he aims to justify a late entry for the King George.
Owners Middleham Park Racing, based at Barton-upon-Humber, stumped up £10,000 to add the David Pipe-trained nine-year-old to the field at the confirmation stage and believe they can a get run for their money.
Junior, a rare winner at both the Cheltenham Festival and Royal Ascot, showed his well-being when winning the Rehearsal Chase at Newcastle on his first run since he fell at the second fence in the Grand National.
“I don’t think it’s a classic King George – no Kauto Star, no Denman and I fancy our chances,” said Nick Bradley, spokesman for owners Middleham Park Racing. “There is no obvious front-runner in the race, other than ourselves. He’ll get a tap in the belly and away we go.
“The plan was to go for the Rowland Meyrick at Wetherby and try to build-up his confidence for the end of the season. Then we were looking at the King George and we couldn’t think of any three-mile horses in there.
“When you are told the ground is going to be heavy or soft, personally I would have doubts about a few of them staying. That was in the back of our minds as well.”