The seven-year-old was hot favourite for the Merseyside Grade One off the back of his Cheltenham Gold Cup victory seven months earlier, but had to make do with minor honours as a resurgent Kauto Star came back to form in scintillating style.
Long Run again played second fiddle to the legendary chaser in the King George VI Chase and he was only third when defending his Cheltenham Gold Cup crown — but Henderson could not be happier with his charge ahead of his return.
This time there is no Kauto Star lying in wait following his retirement, while the master of Seven Barrows also believes Long Run starts off this campaign a little fitter than the last.
Henderson said: “I’d like to think he’s a good bit straighter this year than he was last year. He looks big and he looks fantastic.
“Last year Paul (Nicholls) had Kauto 100% and I thought us being 90% would be enough, but it wasn’t. He was probably a bit fresh last year and we got in a boxing match with Kauto, and Kauto punched his lights out.
“It’s a shame his first run is going to be in really testing ground, it’s not going to tell us everything, but we’re getting a run into him and then I have four weeks until the King George.”
While the soft ground is hardly ideal, Long Run’s owner Robert Waley-Cohen feels there is little option but to let him take his chance.
He said: “The ground is what we’ve anticipated all week and I think we just have to press on and hope they all handle it. I think Long Run is a bit more forward than he was going into the race last year and he is certainly more mature, physically and mentally. He’s running against good horses on Saturday and they don’t just give Grade Ones away, but we’re very much looking forward to it.”
The up-and-coming Silviniaco Conti has big shoes to fill following Kauto Star’s retirement as he is seemingly Paul Nicholls’ chief Gold Cup contender following his romp in the Charlie Hall Chase at Wetherby.
Nicholls told Betfair: “The one thing about him is he jumps really, really well and he stays well, which is just what you need to go to a Gold Cup.
“Whether we’ll talk about going to the Gold Cup this season he’ll tell us, but the next logical step is the Betfair Chase.”
“It’s a race we’ve won four times with Kauto and he’s come out of Wetherby really, really well.
“The only thing I wouldn’t want is the ground to get too, too testing, but he’s a nice horse for the future.”
The Giant Bolster was one place ahead of Long Run in last season’s Gold Cup, but trainer David Bridgwater is not confident of confirming the form first time out.
Bridgwater said: “He’s in good order. I hope he’ll go through the ground as well as the others.
“We obviously finished ahead of Long Run in the Gold Cup, but this is a different track and a different stage of the season, obviously.
“If we can finish within 10 lengths of him on Saturday, I’ll be very happy.
“It’s just brilliant to be part of races like this.”
Trainer Donald McCain hopes Weird Al can yield an even better result than his third-placed finish here last season. The nine-year-old appears to run his best races after a break, as he showed when winning last year’s Charlie Hall.
“We didn’t feel he was quite ready to go to the Charlie Hall so we went straight to the Betfair,” said McCain.
“He ran a nice race in it last year on his second run back.
“He probably wasn’t as sharp as he was, so we’ve concentrated on going there fresh this time. He seems in great nick at the moment.”
Cannington Brook has a mountain to climb on official ratings, but is two from two at Haydock and loves heavy ground. Trainer Colin Tizzard said: “He is 30lb wrong with the others but he loves heavy ground and is unbeaten around Haydock. I hope there is a bit more improvement to come from him as he needs to improve 20lb, but the ground will help him.”