Nicky Henderson, trainer of the 2011 Cheltenham Gold Cup winner Long Run, has revealed that he intends to run his high-class performer without earplugs when the seven-year-old makes his next racecourse appearance, most likely in the Betfair Denman Chase at Newbury in mid-February, writes Elliot Slater.
Henderson applied the earplugs to the French-bred gelding as a measure to keep the Robert Waley-Cohen-owned star as calm as possible in view of the incredible support that came the way of the mighty Kauto Star who was bidding (ultimately successfully) to win an astonishing fifth King George VI Chase at Kempton Park on Boxing Day. The earplugs certainly did their job, but Henderson believes that they possibly caused his charge to relax too much and leave him somewhat detached from reality through the early stages of the Grade 1 affair. Those looking at the best Cheltenham Gold Cup odds should remember this.
Beaten just a length-and-a-quarter by Paul Nicholls’ remarkable veteran, Long Run will have an extra couple of furlongs to tackle at Cheltenham and judging by the way he stayed on from the second last at Kempton (despite making a mistake at the final fence), there is every reason to believe that in full possession of his senses and on a course that appears to suit him particularly well, he will go very close indeed to retaining his chasing crown.
Henderson admits that Kauto Star has surprised him this season in coming back to something very close to his sensational best of a number of seasons ago, but he also believes that his horse has probably improved despite being beaten twice by Nicholls’ horse – he went down to an eight-length defeat in Haydock’s Betfair Chase in November – in his two outings so far this term. Bookmakers currently rate Long Run a 5/2 ante-post market leader to win back-to-back Gold Cups, whilst Kauto Star is a solidly backed 4/1 second favourite.