The Punter: A Long shot to take chance on in Gold Cup
The long and short of today's Gold Cup debate points to the younger brigade coming to the fore, and that's why Long Run gets the vote in an intriguing contest for Cheltenham's blue-riband prize.
After Tuesday's celebrations with the Ulster-owned Hurricane Fly taking the Champion Hurdle, there is more local interest in the big one.
Defending champion Imperial Commander spends his summer months with his former owner Essen Ross at Ballycraigy in Newtownabbey, Kauto Star has been a regular runner at Down Royal while Glenavy-born trainer and ex-jockey Neil Mulholland, now based in Devon, is hopeful of a great show from ‘wild card' Midnight Chase.
Midnight has improved in leaps and bounds and has won four times over the Cheltenham fences but not at Grade 1 level. He will be ridden by Tom Scudamore following the injury to regular pilot Dougie Costello and is certainly capable of running into a place at a big price.
Nothing more needs to be said about the Commander and he'll not give up his title without a fight, but few horses triumph two years on the bounce — only one in the last 18 years and that was Best Mate. Imperial has been kept fresh since winning on his only run this season in the Betfair Chase at Haydock and trainer Nigel Twiston-Davies is very confident of a repeat.
Surely age has caught up with Kauto Star and Denman with no horse older than 10 having finished first past the post since the subsequently disqualified 12-year-old Tied Cottage in 1980.
Trainer Paul Nicholls might be throwing such details back in the face of anorak statisticians come this afternoon, but the golden light is ready to shine on Nicky Henderson's Long Run who can follow the path of eight of the last 11 winners having contested the King George VI Chase at Kempton which he won by 12 lengths, demolishing Kauto in the process.
There are those critical of his amateur pilot Sam Waley-Cohen, son of the owner, but Sam gave the horse a peach of a ride at Kempton. However, Long Run must prove himself at Cheltenham having disappointed when favourite for last year's RSA Chase and then third here in the Paddy Power Gold Cup in November.