Long Run can reign again
Ian Ogg previews Kempton Park's Boxing Day feature, the William Hill King George VI Chase.
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Monday's news of the tendon injury sustained by Al Ferof saw Long Run harden at the head of the betting for the William Hill King George VI Chase and there will be many who believe that odds of around 5/2 represent very fair value about Nicky Henderson's charge.
After all, he produced a brilliant display to win the race in 2011 and beat all bar the recently retired Kauto Star by 17 lengths and upwards 12 months ago. He went into that race on the back of a defeat at Haydock and comes into this year's edition off the back of a similar effort on Merseyside.
There are very few negatives despite the overall feeling that during last season he failed to match the heights set in his 2010/11 campaign.
In that respect, a comparison can be drawn with Master Minded who never matched the visually brilliant performance of his 2008 Champion Chase win but he did still go on to win another seven Grade One races so it was hardly downhill all the way.
Cue Card is second favourite following his brilliant win at Exeter but there have to be doubts about his staying the three mile trip and it's hard to argue that those concerns are built into his price.
Sir Des Champs is more likely to be lining up at Leopardstown, Grands Crus is in a race against time following his breathing operation, Finian's Rainbow ran like a drain last time and there was nothing in Captain Chris' Ascot win to suggest he's a significantly better horse than the one who was thrashed last year.
That just leaves Kauto Stone and Riverside Theatre of the market leaders.
The former suffered a frustrating first season in Britain but there was a lot to like about his Down Royal defeat of First Lieutenant who, don't forget, beat Rock On Ruby in the Neptune at Cheltenham and also finished second to Bob's Worth in the RSA.
Riverside Theatre finished a fine second to the favourite in the 2010/11 season and went on to win his next three starts, all in Grade Ones.
He goes well fresh, acts on the track and has been trained for the race but his price is probably about right.
Paul Nicholls made no secret of the fact that Al Ferof was his number one contender for the race but, equally, heralded Kauto Stone as holding live claims and there is such strength at Ditcheat that the number two hope in that yard would be a star in the majority of others.
Ruby Walsh rides and, things being what they are, his price is sure to contract in the run up to Boxing Day but, for all their claims, neither horse has me excited about their chance.
Long Run may not have delivered the performances that we'd all hoped he would following his King George and Gold Cup double of 2011.
His jumping still leaves plenty to be desired (although he's never fallen or unseated) and he lacks the charisma of Kauto Stone's half-brother - or even Cue Card - and he doesn't thrill in the manner of Denman but he is still a decent horse.
Yes, there are more exciting runners in the field, runners with untapped potential but there are no doubts about Long Run - trip, ground, course, class; he ticks all of those boxes - and the generally available 5/2 (11/4 in places) seems a very fair price indeed.