Although disappointing that so few go to post, it is hardly surprising that only five rivals will be taking on the 5/6 odds on favourite, Long Run in the Grade 1 Betfair Chase at Haydock Park on Saturday. However, at least four of those five boast form capable of upsetting the current King George and Cheltenham Gold Cup champion.
Diamond Harry is making his first appearance since winning the Hennessy Gold Cup at Newbury almost 12 months ago is the one that the Bookmakers believe will prove the hardest for Long Run to beat and is an 11/2 chance. Others in the horse racing industry, while not daring to oppose Long Run, have suggested that the biggest threat will come from the legendary Kauto Star, winner of this race three times in the past or the recent Charlie Hall Chase winner, Weird Al.
On form alone, Long Run is clearly the one to beat; he showed his true class when taking National Hunt’s top two chases last season and this race has proved a popular seasonal starting point for recent Cheltenham Gold Winners. Kauto Star has won in 2006, 2007 and 2009, whilst 2010 Gold Cup, Imperial Commander, won the race 12 months ago so Long Run will be looking to follow in their footsteps with a win in this race ahead of his next target which will be the King George Chase at Kempton on Boxing Day.
Injury has ruled out Imperial Commander this year but Ruby Walsh, jockey of Kauto Star, who has decided to ride him at Haydock in preference to Master Minded who runs in the Amlin Chase at Ascot, also on Saturday, believes the dual Gold Cup winner and four times King George winner is overpriced at 15/2. Walsh went on to say that ‘Kauto’ will be running every race as if it is his last and will come to Haydock fresh and very fit on a course he relishes. The Nicholls stable is also in good form of late.
Diamond Harry a Grade 2 Novice chase winner on this course, ran the race of his life when winning the Hennessy Gold Cup last year but a suspensory problem with his foreleg has kept him off course since. The Nicky Williams trained eight year old was due to run in the Charlie Hall Chase a couple of weeks ago at Wetherby but he was withdrawn lame, having knocked his off hind leg. He is certainly a better horse when fresh but coming into a race of this quality, after such a long time out is certain to challenge his ability.
Weird Al, who is now trained by Donald McCain having moved from the Ian Williams stable, won the Charlie Hall and appears to have improved enormously for the switch. He has come out of his Wetherby win in fine form and although McCain knows it will be a tall order to win a Grade 1 chase in such heavyweight company the Grand National winning trainer believes that taking on Long Run in the early part of the season will provide him with his best chance to win and also provide a useful yardstick for the coming months. The last time he encountered Long Run was in the Gold Cup at the Cheltenham Festival in March where after running prominently he burst a blood vessel and had to be pulled up.
In second place in the Charlie Hall Chase behind Weird Al, was the Paul Webber trained, Time For Rupert, who is the current 14/1 second favourite to win the 2012 Gold Cup. Before running in that race however, the eight year old will need to improve quite substantially, particularly as he was getting 3lbs off Weird Al at Wetherby and was beaten by more than three lengths. Therefore, it is difficult on all known chasing form to give him much hope in this race on Saturday, he has never won a graded chase but he does have some class as he proved in Novice Company last term but he would need to put a couple of disappointments behind him to feature in Saturday’s Haydock feature.
It is Long Run though who sets the standard and despite being odds on to win, he is so for good reason and at the age of six years old, he has plenty of scope for further improvement. A repeat of what he showed last season should see him have these rivals strung out behind him and he is clearly the one to beat.