Wednesday, February 22, 2012
By Stephen Dwyer
With three weeks left to Cheltenham, most of the leading fancies have had their warm-up runs by now. Hurricane Fly was outstanding, Big Buck’s his usual enigmatic self but Long Run still has his doubters. He opened his account at the third time of asking last weekend with an uninspiring victory in the Betfair Denman Chase at Newbury. This race is a Grade 2 event, he fell under the sword of Kauto Star in his previous two runs in The King George and Betfair Chase, both Grade 1’s. By all accounts, the manner of Saturday’s win did not look visually impressive and bookmakers did not shorten his price for the Gold Cup where he remains a 5/2 chance.
In Friday’s Denman (can we call it that ?) he beat stable mate Burton Port by half a length. Burton Port was having his first run since he finished second in the 2010 Hennessy and is no slouch. He is a high class sort, as a novice he won the Grade 2 Reynoldstown and Mildmay races and was also second in a Hennessy. In receipt of a hefty 10lbs from Long Run, there was no shortage of confidence in Burton Port from the Henderson yard. But Long Run prevailed and his class saw him through. To his credit, he did jump much sharper than his two previous starts but still, there was no Kauto Star in the race to dictate matters.
Long Run has raced eleven times, his two early wins in France were quickly followed up with a string of high-class victories in the UK. Never out of the top three in any of his races, Long Run’s only other placed efforts were in the Paddy Power Gold Cup and the RSA. Last season when he won the King George and Gold Cup, Kauto Star was not the force of old. This year however, Kauto took no prisoners and exploited the chink in Long Run’s armour, his jumping.
Remember too that Weapon’s Amnesty beat Long Run in the RSA under an aggressive ride by Davy Russell. Little Josh made all in the Paddy Power to beat Long Run who had too much to do. In that race he was giving over a stone to Sam Twiston-Davis and Little Josh, a horse who has not won since. The fact is that Long Run is vulnerable when the pace is forced by a strong galloping type such as Weapon’s Amnesty or Kauto Star. He needs to settle early in races and establish a good rhythm to be at his best. He did this in last year’s Gold Cup when he became the first six year old to win the race since Mill House in 1963.
Apart from his two winning starts in France under Benoît Gicquel, the only jockey to ride Long Run is Sam Waley-Cohen. This in itself is a topic of much debate. Some say Waley-Cohen knows the horse intricately whereas others feel Long Run would be more adept under stable jockey Barry Geraghty. I believe the latter to be true, all credit to Waley-Cohen but to me this is like a student pilot trying to fly a 747, he does so on a wing and a prayer.
Sam Waley-Cohen, the son of Long Run’s owner, millionaire Robert Waley-Cohen, is a businessman first and an amateur jockey second. He runs a string of dental surgeries and is a well-renowned man-about-town. Aside from riding Gold Cup horses, he lists hang-gliding, parachuting, bungee jumping and white-water rafting as his muses. In the saddle he has led a less-than accomplished life, his only win this season from 16 rides was last weekend. He has also received multiple bans recently; 12 days in December for taking the wrong course at Fakenham, three days for failing to give his horse time to respond to the whip at Taunton and another three-day suspension for careless riding on Long Run when causing interference to Somersby in the King George at Kempton. There are a lot of bans for a rider with so few mounts.
Of course it is any owner’s prerogative to decide who rides their horses. Willie Mullins picks his son Patrick, Ted Walsh chose Ruby in his early days, this is to give the chaps the best possible start in their career as a professional jockey. For the Waley-Cohen’s however it seems that Robert is indulging his son’s fantasies about taking on Tony McCoy, Ruby Walsh and Barry Geraghty on the big days. It certainly is an unusual scenario, Sam Waley-Cohen regularly rides at Point to Points but this is a world apart from a Gold Cup. The questions is of course with Ruby Walsh in the Saddle, Long Run would not be 5/2 for the Gold Cup; more like even money or shorter, given his ability.
I still believe that Long Run will win the Gold Cup in March, the extra distance in the race will suit and he is definitely on an upward curve. Kauto Star will not go down without a fight however and if he is again foot-perfect, Waley-Cohen will have to pull out all the stops.
In mathematics, the horizontal line in long division is called a vinculum. Long Run is that line, he divides the purists from the occasional racegoer and there is no middle ground. Despite his Gold Cup and King George wins, many feel he still has a lot to prove and greater potential to fulfil. Granted he has not captured the public imagination in the way Kauto Star or Denman have in recent years but he is still very, very good.
Come Gold Cup day, Long Run will be the one to deliver, if his jockey can settle him early, the race should be at his mercy. At the end of the day, even a 747 can land on autopilot.