• Trainer calls for media to temper criticism of amateur jockey
• Runner will have jumps schooling session before Cheltenham
The amateur jockey Sam Waley-Cohen has received an emphatic vote of confidence from the man who will give him the leg-up into the saddle for next month’s Gold Cup at the Cheltenham Festival as Nicky Henderson reported Long Run, the defending champion, to be ripe and ready to settle a score with his old foe Kauto Star.
Owned by Robert Waley-Cohen, the chairman of Cheltenham racecourse and a long-standing patron of Henderson, Long Run was given a fine ride by his son, Sam, in the 2011 running of jump racing’s most prestigious race.
However, defeats for Long Run in this season’s Betfair Chase and King George VI Chase, along with an incident at Fakenham where the jockey took the wrong course and the stewards failed to accept his excuse, have led to Waley-Cohen’s stock falling.
“I’m not going to criticise the press but we all know the thing where they build them up to knock them down,” said Henderson, when asked at his media day at Lambourn on Tuesday whether a recent victory at Newbury had helped the jockey’s confidence as much as the horse’s.
“He was the golden boy, the amateur, the Corinthian, the part-timer who won the Gold Cup. But when things go a little bit wobbly they get on his back. He’s done nothing wrong – it was a great ride at Newbury. Say no more.
“I’ve total confidence in the horse and in Sam riding him. It’s not as if Robert is going to put another jockey on him anyway, but why would he? The two of them get on really well together.”
Henderson appeared genuinely relaxed despite the inevitable stresses that come with the rapid approach in a fortnight of the Festival, at which he could have as many as 40-plus runners.
Despite horses of the calibre of Sprinter Sacre (“the big, black aeroplane”), Oscar Whisky (“he’s got a real chance”) and Binocular (“I know he’s not everybody’s favourite, but I love him”) all having evident claims in championship contests, it is Long Run who remains the totem for Henderson’s huge team.
“He’ll have one more school, one more session with Yogi [Breisner, on his jumping], and then his work is done. Kauto Star seems to have become two years younger all of a sudden this season. I don’t doubt that this is a different Kauto to the one we saw last season.
“He beat us with a turbo charge at Haydock and then something similar [at Kempton], but they are speed tracks. You tend to wind the pace up more steadily in the Gold Cup. If he’s going to head for home a long way out at Cheltenham, you’ve got two and a half furlongs further to go and you’re running up a hill to do it. It might be harder for him and easier for us.”
Long Run will wear ear plugs in the parade before the race at Cheltenham but, as at Newbury this month, they will be removed at the start. The trainer played down their significance.
“Maybe he was just getting too relaxed when we kept them in [for the race] earlier this season but it’s not as big a deal as you think,” he said. “I could tell you a lot of horses you wouldn’t know about who run in ear plugs.”
The stable jockey Barry Geraghty will visit the yard to ride work on Friday and school a number of the leading contenders, including Long Run and Simonsig, about whom a decision as to which race he will contest at the Festival will be left until after the weekend.
“His owner, Ronnie Bartlett, and I can’t make our minds up,” said Henderson, who requires two further winners to surpass Fulke Walwyn as the most successful ever trainer at the meeting.
“You can’t believe he won’t stay the two miles and five furlongs [of the Neptune Novice Hurdle] but it’s hard to get away from the pace and speed he has. These are the sort of things that keep you awake when Cheltenham is around the corner.”