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 on Boxing Day.
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 ten 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,” Henderson said. “OK, 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 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.
“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,” the trainer told At The Races. “He had one racecourse gallop at Kempton. He worked seriously well and he’s just been so good first time out every year.”
Meanwhile, Reve De Sivola gave Connections hope he might fill the void in the staying hurdle division left by the sidelined Big Buck’s with an emphatic success in the Long Walk at Ascot on Saturday.
The Nick Williams-trained seven-year-old built on his comeback run behind Big Buck’s at Newbury three weeks earlier, with a 14-length all-the-way win over Smad Place.
Like Big Buck’s, Reve De Sivola was put back over hurdles after not quite fulfilling expectations over fences.
A dual Grade One winner over the small obstacles as a novice, Reve De Sivola could not repeat that kind of success over fences. And after almost 12 months off with a tendon injury, he has returned with a vengeance in the Ascot Grade One over three miles to earn a 12-1 quote for the Ladbrokes World Hurdle with the sponsors.
The Cheltenham showpiece will hopefully be the objective, but whether Reve De Sivola has a run before then has still to be decided.
“We were hopeful, but you never know until the day when a horse comes back from a long period off through injury,” said Paul Duffy, who heads his Diamond Partnership syndicate.
“His first run was encouraging and that was fruition to it. He always stays on – he’s a stayer – and we rode him differently because we wanted to make sure it was a staying race.
“The horses behind him weren’t as guaranteed to stay as Reve, we thought, and that’s why Nick’s instructions to Richard Johnson to be there or thereabouts. And he was just relentless.
“The horse is fine. He had a hose down after the race to make sure his joints were fine.
“We like to think we’ve got the objective of the World Hurdle.
“Let’s keep our fingers crossed he gets there. He has done all right at Cheltenham when he ran against Peddlers Cross in the Neptune Novices’ Hurdle at the Festival.
“Rite Of Passage was third and people forget the form of that race has stood up pretty well.
“He hurdled very well on Saturday. He just made one mistake, that’s all, and the rest he hurdled very well. Big Buck’s went back to hurdles and has won 18 races in a row.
“Before the race, we talked about whether or not he went to Cheltenham at the end of January.
“That’s a possibility, but we will have to see how he comes out of the race and think carefully about it. Cheltenham takes it out of a horse and do we want to take him there twice?
“The horse will tell us how his well-being is. Sometimes it’s quite difficult to keep a horse in training, fit and ready to run. We’ve come to learn week by week with horses it’s full of uncertainties and you have to enjoy the highs.”