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 Wednesday.
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,” 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.”
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.
“Kauto Stone was a bit disappointing last year after his run in the Tingle Creek,” said Nicholls.
“He was very buzzed up and I think he was struggling with his breathing, and we sorted it in the summer.
“He stayed on really nicely at Down Royal on his first try at three miles.”
Cue Card tackles three miles for the first time but his trainer Colin Tizzard is convinced his stable star will stay the trip.
“We think he’s as good as he’s ever been. We’ve just got to keep him ticking over until Wednesday,” said the Dorset trainer.
“Obviously we’ll find out then if he gets the trip. It will be a test of stamina, no doubt.
“He’s a Champion Bumper winner. I think he stays perfectly all right.”
The Philip Hobbs-trained Captain Chris bids to improve on his third place 12 months ago and owner Diana Whateley’s husband Graham would like to see dry weather.
“We’ve got our fingers crossed that the weather is kinder to us than it has been,” he said.
“I’ve always liked the horse very much, as has Philip Hobbs and Richard Johnson so it will be interesting to see how he gets on. ”If he runs as well as he did last time, we’ll be very pleased.”
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