Can Long Run take Imperial Commander’s Cheltenham Gold Cup crown?
Cheltenham Festival Gold Cup preview
All the talk prior to the King George VI Chase at Kempton in January revolved around Kauto Star as he attempted to land the race for the fifth consecutive year. Sent off 4/7 favourite Paul Nicholls’ star chaser finished a disappointing third behind impressive winner Long Run. Amateur rider Sam Waley-Cohen aboard the French import comfortably dispatched of his rivals, spoiling the Kauto party in the process – but can the horse make the discernible step up and become a Gold Cup winning horse at Cheltenham?
The lightly raced 6-year-old has taken to a racecourse just five times before but has managed three victories. However Long Run’s two defeats have come at Prestbury Park – he was a beaten favourite on his penultimate start in the Paddy Power Gold Cup Chase despite being sent off 2/1 market jolly. He did run respectfully behind useful types Weapon’s Amnesty and Burton Port in last year’s RSA Chase at the festival but the Gold Cup represents a notable gulf in class. And if he is to frank his King George VI form then the Nicky Henderson trained horse must put an end to the myth that surrounds 6-year-olds winning the festival showpiece. One has to trawl through the archives and dig up the year 1963 since Mill House won the prize aged six. But only four horses this age have contested the race in the last 40 years so this record isn’t as awful as the statistics suggest.
In Long Run’s favour though is the last eight of the last 11Gold Cup winners contested the King George – so one must be shrewd before ruling out Mr Robert-Waley-Cohen’s 6/1 (Betfred) chance? The question may not be how good Long Run is, but just how good his rivals are. Imperial Commander looks the chief threat after landing the £475,000 prize twelve months ago but if Long Run is said to be too young to be crowned winner; the opposite can be applied to Nigel Twiston-Davies’ charge who turned ten this year. Cool Dawn in 1998 was the last horse aged ten years plus to score and before him Cool Ground in 1992 but Twiston-Davies believes the relatively few miles on Imperial Commander’s clock will stand him in good stead. Fellow Gold Cup winners Kauto Star and Denman are a year older but the reigning champion has competed in just 18 races under rules.
Rather worryingly perhaps is Imperial Commander’s preparation for the Gold Cup where he currently heads the betting at 7/2 with race sponsors Totesport. He has has just the one run this term when he landed the Betfair Chase at Haydock in November. He beat Nacarat that day by 2-and-a-half lengths and he has since contested the King George finishing a close up fourth behind Kauto Star so that form makes for difficult reading. Paddy Brennan schooled Imperial Commander at Kempton last Saturday and the horse looks to be fit and well after his early preparations were hampered due to a cut leg.
So what to make of Long Run’s chances against Imperial Commander and the field? The slight negative with Long Run is his only two defeats to date have come at Cheltenham. If he doesn’t act as well on the ground, Imperial Commander certainly has a love for the track with six course wins to his name. But this is far from a two-horse race, the remainder of the field pose serious dangers and one would be foolish to discount Paul Nicholls’ deadly duo should Kauto and Denman be on song.
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