Long Run bounced back to his imperious best with a scintillating, last gasp victory in the shadows of the post to regain the King George VI Chase on Boxing Day at Kempton Park.
Forming part of the leading pack for the majority of the race, Long Run turned away his co-leader Champion Court when rounding the home turn and had seemingly looked to be clear and heading for victory with an emphatic display. However, as the seven year old headed towards the second last, the 2011 King George VI Chase third, Captain Chris, began to stay on at an alarming rate.
As the runners head towards the final fence, Captain Chris and his jockey Richard Johnson had cut towards the inside of the course and took a marginal lead with a superb jump over the last. As Long Run brushed through the top of the last, Captain Chris did not seem to be stopping, bouncing to a three length advantage up the run in. However, the story writers were to script one final twist in their tale, with Long Run surging, showing sheer guts and determination that had been absent for a number of starts, to get back alongside Captain Chris and lead my the smallest of margins at the wire to the delight of the Kempton Park crowd.
Owned by Robert Waley-Cohen, the French bred son of Cadoudal was again ridden by his son, Sam. A dentist by day, criticism has been high on the agenda of followers of National Hunt racing when debating the ability of the amateur jockey, yet for all of the negativity seemingly surrounding every passing start of Long Run's career, the seven year old is yet to finish outside of the top three in any career start with six victories forming part of a twelve race partnership for the pair.
"I didn't know [if he would win]." said Sam Waley-Cohen, whom was winning his fourth Grade 1 chase on the gelding, "I just threw everything at him and he came back for me. It's wonderful when a horse picks up for you and he had to really want it and fight for it today.".
The winner of the 2011 Cheltenham Gold Cup, Long Run had looked to be out of sorts since that victory with just one victory coming since that day in March 2011 prior to the Boxing Day extravaganza, yet a regular routine of schooling over fences at home seemed to have revitalised Long Run and established a renewed confidence, with the horse putting in a display that few could fail be impressed with in atrocious ground conditions.
"Both horse and jockey have put any doubters to rest" said Nicky Henderson, who continues to enjoy an exceptional record in Grade 1 races this year, "He [Long Run] has proved stamina, willingness, guts determination and Sam has given him a great ride. It was hard work today but that's hard work ground. He has come back and deserved to win.".
For Captain Chris and his connections it was yet again a case of what might have been. Having oozed confidence turning for home in the 2011 renewal, Captain Chris seemed to empty out heading towards the final few fences, subsequently ensuring connections reconsidered the horses campaign for the remained of that season. However, the display of the eight year old in his seasonal reappearance at Ascot last time out left connections with little doubt that another crack at the King George VI Chase would be firmly on the agenda this season.
"He's run really well, I thought he'd win at the last" said jockey Richard Johnson, "Long Run is a proven Gold Cup winner and says and it's just good to see my fellow back to form. I'm looking forward to riding him one better ground in the spring.".
Grands Crus, who had recovered well from a breathing operation that had taken place just a month previously, stayed on well for third after travelling ominously well on the final turn for home. Champion Court bellowed his odds of 28-1 for a fantastic fourth-place finish for the small stable of Martin Keighley and the under-rated Alain Cawley.
Photo Courtesy of Emma-Louise Kerwin (Goodtosoft.co.uk)