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Last Updated: 01/11/13 3:24pm
Long Run: Set for Wetherby
Owner Robert Waley-Cohen is taking nothing for granted as pride and joy Long Run kicks off his season in the bet365 Charlie Hall Chase at Wetherby on Saturday.
Since arriving from France as a multiple Grade One winner almost four years ago, the eight-year-old has perhaps not received due credit from some quarters for what is a truly exceptional record.
Nicky Henderson's charge burst onto the scene in Britain with a truly stunning display in the 2009 Feltham Novices' Chase at Kempton and has never finished outside the first three since.
Only three of his 14 starts on these shores have not been at Grade One level, he has won a Cheltenham Gold Cup and been placed in another two and clinched the King George VI Chase twice, as well as chasing home the legendary Kauto Star in another.
This weekend's assignment in West Yorkshire would appear to be his easiest for some time, but with improving novices Unioniste and Harry Topper in the field, Waley-Cohen believes his charge faces a far from straightforward task.
He said: "It looks like quite a competitive race, as you would expect. The storms that hit the south of England didn't penetrate that far north and the ground should be fine.
"He has come to hand a bit earlier this season, which is one reason why he is running on Saturday. The other reason is we would quite like to go to Haydock for the Betfair Chase (November 23) having had a run under our belts. He has finished second there for the last two years, it's a £200,000 race and we would quite like to win it.
"After that it would obviously be great if he could go and win a third King George as it is a pretty elite group of horses that have managed that.
"He'll meet a couple of highly rated novices from last season on Saturday and I believe he has to give them all weight. They will be hoping to improve and we're hoping we can keep our level up at the grand old age of eight. He's going into his seventh season in training and we've been very lucky with him.
"Like with all jumps horses and the way the winter weather is, you can't plan too far ahead, but there is no reason why he shouldn't be as good as ever. That said, it won't be easy for him on Saturday conceding weight to improving horses."
Ever-present in the saddle since Long Run joined the champion trainer has been the owner's son Sam Waley-Cohen. The leading amateur rider has not had much experience of riding at Wetherby, but believes the track will pose no problems for his big-race mount.
"It's great to be starting off another season with him and it's going to be really exciting to get back on him on the racecourse again," said the jockey.
"Nicky thought he had summered really well this year and he is fit and well, so he might as well go to the races.
"I actually rode Long Run's full-brother, Bica, to win a hunter chase there, but that was a few years ago (2007). I think it should be a decent track for him (Long Run).
"It's his first run of the season, so we want him to come out and show he is fit and well and that he retains all the ability he showed last season. That is the main focus. After that it's about building a good foundation for the rest of the season."Second in the betting behind hot favourite Long Run is the Paul Nicholls-trained Unioniste.
The five-year-old won three of his five starts over fences during his debut season in Britain last term and signed off for the campaign with a creditable fourth when favourite for the RSA Chase at the Cheltenham Festival.
"He'll have an entry in the Hennessy but we're starting him off in the Charlie Hall. It's a good chase for second-season horses. He stays and jumps well," Nicholls told At The Races.
"Obviously, he will have to progress from what he's done up to now to get to the top level but he's a nice staying chaser and as he gets stronger I think there is improvement to come.
"He's rated 153 which is not easy to win a handicap off so we thought let's see how he runs in the Charlie Hall. It will tell us which direction to head."
With stable jockey Daryl Jacob sidelined by injury and newly-appointed number two rider Nick Scholfield riding for Nicholls at Down Royal, Sam Twiston-Davies has been booked for the multiple champion trainer's big hopes at Wetherby.
Twiston-Davies told Racing UK: "Long Run is obviously no mug at all but Paul can get them very fit first time out and he'll be very well schooled, fingers crossed we can have a good weekend together."
Kim Bailey's Harry Topper looked the part when winning his first three starts over fences last season, but then unseated his rider at Kelso before being brought down on his final appearance at the Punchestown Festival.
Like Nicholls, Bailey is looking to find out more about his six-year-old's potential aspirations for the coming months.
Bailey said: "I'm very happy with him at home. He seems in very good form and I'm happy with the progress he's making. This is an ideal place to start him off. I didn't want to go and run him in a 15 or 20-runner handicap or something like the Hennessy (Gold Cup) first time out.
"This will obviously tell us a lot more about where we're going with him."
Malcolm Jefferson's Cape Tribulation won the Rowland Meyrick Chase over the same course and distance on Boxing Day before going on to win the Argento Chase at Cheltenham and finish fifth in the Gold Cup.
Jefferson said: "He's been doing well and had a bit of a holiday as well. He's been doing plenty of schooling and schooled well again this week.
"He's in good nick and he's ready to run. Obviously he's run well here in the past so it's a good starting point for him."
Wayward Prince, trained and owned by permit holder Hilary Parrott, will be a big outsider, but did run a fine race to chase home Silviniaco Conti 12 months ago.
Parrott: "He went all right on his last run over fences at Aintree, but he is a bit of enigma and his best two performances were in last season's Charlie Hall and when he won at Aintree.
"He would have a chance of making the frame if he could reproduce that run behind Silviniaco Conti, but it is a very hot race."
Former Henderson inmate Master Of The Hall makes his debut for Middleham-based trainer Micky Hammond, having changed hands for £34,000 at Doncaster Bloodstock Sales in May.
The seven-runner field is completed by Tony Martin's Irish raider Benefficient, winner of last season's Irish Arkle at Leopardstown and the Jewson Novices' Chase at the Cheltenham Festival. He will be ridden by Tony McCoy.
Martin said: "Benefficient has travelled over well and seems in good form. We were very happy with his comeback Listowel and we are just testing the water with him.
"It is going to be a very hot race. We just want to see how he gets on in this sort of company because then we can make more of an assessment about what we do for the rest of the season.
"He was just beaten on the line by Harry Topper over three miles at Newbury, so I think the trip will be OK, but we will know a lot more tomorrow."