Nine Kempton rivals for Long Run
Warm favourite Long Run will face nine rivals in the William Hill King George VI Chase at Kempton on Boxing Day.
- Related Content
The Nicky Henderson-trained seven-year-old won the race two seasons ago and finished second to the mighty Kauto Star last year.
Henderson also has an able second-string in Riverside Theatre, who finished runner-up behind Long Run in the 2010-11 renewal.
Kauto Stone, a half-brother to five-times King George winner Kauto Star, takes his chance for champion trainer Paul Nicholls.
David Pipe has two good-looking contenders in Grands Crus and Junior, who was supplemented for the race earlier in the week.
Philip Hobbs relies upon last year's third Captain Chris after taking out Menorah and Wishfull Thinking at the final declaration stage on Sunday morning.
The Giant Bolster, runner-up in last season's Cheltenham Gold Cup, and recent Haldon Gold Cup winner Cue Card have also been declared.
Champion Court, trained by Martin Keighley, and For Non Stop from Nick Williams' stable complete the line-up.
Hunt Ball, Sir Des Champs, and Finian's Rainbow were also taken out of the race at the final declaration stage.
Owner Robert Waley-Cohen hopes a tip-top Long Run can regain his crown. Long Run did not please everyone when beaten by Silviniaco Conti in the Betfair Chase at Haydock last month, but Waley-Cohen felt there were valid reasons for that defeat.
"The race wasn't run to suit at Haydock and the ground was quite tricky for a horse that isn't used to running on that sort of heavy ground," he said.
"We were always worried there wouldn't be enough pace and it might turn into a sprint finish - he was always vulnerable to that - but we didn't want him to leave his season behind in that race.
"It's possible the Gold Cup he won as a six-year-old might have taken a hell of a lot out of him, it might be that Kauto Star was a hell of a good horse last year.
"He had two very hard races earlier last season and that came home to roost in the Gold Cup.
"I'm a bit disappointed he didn't improve - he had a good summer and we hoped he'd have moved on, but that said he didn't win a Paddy Power off 158 and ended up finishing that season off 182.
"The handicapper has at us 171 after Haydock and I'd hope he would find a bit extra towards the end of the year.
"He had a quiet week after Haydock but he's in good order and we hope to have him cherry-ripe for Kempton."
Henderson believes Long Run will improve for the Haydock outing.
"Everything has gone right. Haydock went much better this year than it did last year, probably thanks to no Kauto Star to thump him," he told At The Races.
"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'll see where the pace is going to be. We discussed going on at Haydock because there wasn't an obvious pacemaker, but Ruby (Walsh) made his mind up and he was going to make it (on Silviniaco Conti). Ruby set the race up to suit himself.
"I think we were right to drop off him or we would have got into a slog.
"It depends how fast someone wants to go. 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 said of Riverside Theatre: "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.
"He had one racecourse gallop at Kempton. He worked seriously well.
"In fact Grandouet, who ran a tremendous race at Cheltenham the other day never got to him, so we can take encouragement out of his gallop there.
"He's just been so good first time out every year."
Kauto Stone 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.
"There aren't any similarities with Kauto Star. He's half the size, he's a different colour and has a different profile.
"He doesn't look a first cousin, but he's a Grade One winner and a decent horse in his own right."
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."
Tizzard's son and Cue Card's jockey, Joe, feels the same, although he would prefer better ground.
"I wouldn't mind it a bit drier, just to make it easier to answer that unknown question," he said.
"It's going to be a very open King George, there's no question about that.
"I'm happy with how Cue Card is. He's got a question to answer with the trip, but we are confident he'll get it.
"He's certainly better than ever. Tactics-wise he's growing up.
"He's not as keen as he was in his hurdling days. I'm not going to blaze out in front, but I'll ride him nice and prominent, get into a rhythm and get him jumping and then try and save a bit for later on because he's probably the fastest horse in the race."
Captain Chris bids to improve on his third place 12 months ago and owner Diana Whateley's husband Graham is another who would like to see a dry spell.
"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."
The Pipe-trained Grands Crus has the chance to get his career back on track following a wind operation after a couple of disappointing performances since he won the Feltham Novices' Chase so emphatically last year.
"I was never happy at Cheltenham (Paddy Power Gold Cup). I was always having to niggle him along and he was beaten by the second fence. He was a shadow of himself on the day, he didn't feel the same horse," said his jockey Tom Scudamore.
"Geoff Lane had a look at him the next day, he's a world-leading expert, and the horse was back in the yard almost straight away.
"It's been frustrating to watch from the sidelines but hopefully we'll get the real Grands Crus back."
Pipe is also represented by Junior, who was added to the field at the supplementary stage.
"We had a chat with Middleham Park Racing (owners) and he came out of Newcastle, where he won very well, in good condition," said the Nicholashayne trainer.
"They were happy to stump up the money and he'll like the conditions.
"He works nicely at home but he wouldn't be the quickest. He's a bit of a character but he's a very good character."
Junior is also entered at Wetherby on the same day but has the King George as his first preference.
David Bridgwater cannot wait for The Giant Bolster, who will be ridden by Tony McCoy, to line up following his third place in the Betfair Chase on his reappearance.
He said: "He's flying, in tip-top condition.
"It was a superb run at Haydock and he's come on a bundle from it.
"I'm getting very excited about the race."