Kempton on Boxing Day was for many years the Desert Orchid Show. More recently it became the Kauto Star Show, and that great horse’s recent retirement left many feeling that this year’s William Hill King George VI Chase might be a production of ‘Hamlet’ without the Prince. However, we need not have feared as a magnificent performance from the 2010 winner Long Run topped the bill, ably supported by his regular co-star Sam Waley-Cohen.
It’s hard to believe that Long Run is still only aged seven, bearing in mind that he has run in the past three King Georges (for a win, a second and a win) and that he won the Grade 1 Feltham Novices’ Chase over the same course and distance in 2009, aged only four. However, as this lengthy string of top-class performances suggests, Long Run has packed plenty into his few years, having landed his first Grade 1 victory at Auteuil in November 2008 at the age of three.
In the same way that it is easy to forget how young Long Run is, it has at times also been easy to forget how good he is. He has started favourite in each of his past seven starts, but has been a beaten favourite in four of those, including last season in both the ‘King George’ and the Cheltenham Gold Cup. However, even when failing to land the victory which punters seemed to have expected, he has never run badly – as the fact that he has never finished out of the first three in his life confirms.
If there have been times when Long Run has not been given the credit which he deserves, one could make the same observation even more strongly about his rider. Granted, Sam Waley-Cohen is Long Run’s rider simply because his father owns the horse, but even so it would be impossible to put together a case to suggest that he has proved unworthy of the honour of riding this champion.
He has never done anything wrong on him, and this most recent victory (the rider’s second of the afternoon, following the victory of the Waley-Cohens’ homebred Rajdhani Express) was a classic illustration of a good horse and good rider combining to make a perfect partnership.
Even if Long Run’s class and courage won the day, these attributes would not have been enough had the horse not received plenty of assistance from his rider, who held fully held his own against the country’s top professionals. As winning owner Robert Waley-Cohen collected his trophy after the race, he must have been bursting with pride on behalf of his lovely horse, but he would have been justified in feeling equally proud of his son.
It does, of course, take two to make a thrilling finish, and the neck runner-up Captain Chris deserves an almost equal share of credit. Under a perfect ride from Richard Johnson, Captain Chris took the lead with a mighty jump at the last fence, and it must have been very hard for his connections to swallow when Long Run rallied to regain the lead on the line.
It was, therefore, fitting that Menorah should win the rescheduled Peterborough Chase at Kempton the following afternoon, giving Diana Whately, Philip Hobbs and Johnson compensation for this most heroic of defeats.