No matter what the heart says, one look at the odds is enough to make the head hopelessly confused.
Neutrals would love to see Kauto Star win the William Hill King George VI Chase at Kempton today for an unprecedented fifth time – or at the very least push Long Run harder than when the crown changed hands last season. It was almost as though the race's postponement, until a January thaw, reflected some disorientation within Kauto Star, who was lethargic throughout. As one of four defeats in five starts, however, that display seemed to confirm that Kauto Star was finally on the way out – while those buccaneering displays under Sam Waley-Cohen, both round here and then at Cheltenham in March, identified Long Run as a worthy successor.
But everything changed after their mutual reappearance, at Haydock last month. Kauto Star rolled back the years with a ruthless display of jumping and galloping under Ruby Walsh, and his amateur partner's attempt to go toe-to-toe in the back straight only renewed disquiet about Long Run's jumping technique. Kauto Star forced the younger horse into two jolting errors, and Long Run did well to rally for second, beaten eight lengths.
Though Paul Nicholls is adamant that his champion was simply not himself last season, Kauto Star is thought to have been the fitter of the pair at Haydock, and bookmakers duly kept faith with Long Run. Granted that the veteran showed his full hand that day, the fact remains that odds of 5-4 make a pretty generous assumption about the improvement in Long Run. And while he was very fluent round here last season, he does seem chronically prone to errors. For all the friends he has won, both in and out of the saddle, it hardly helps that Waley-Cohen has so far had just 12 mounts (and no winners) this season.
Equally, it is worth remembering how Nicholls was initially disposed to wait for Cheltenham with Kauto Star, who had been so well suited by racing fresh. Both protagonists endured a very hard race at Haydock, and could yet be smarting even five weeks later. Perverse as it seems, at the odds it may be worth taking them both on.
Connections of Kauto Star have a top-class second-string in Master Minded, but he must prove his stamina for the new trip. His recent Ascot victim, Somersby, has long looked more likely to relish a test of stamina, which is the last thing he got at Huntingdon last time. Tried in a tongue-tie, Somersby will either produce a career best or run out of excuses today. Captain Chris also experiments with the distance, but emerges from an undistinguished crop of novices and has had a troubled preparation. And that leaves only one other credible contender.
Though Diamond Harry (3.10) departed from an established pattern when a distant fourth at Haydock – he had previously been invincible first time out – he did shape as though the setback that had delayed his return may have left him short. As it was, he was the only horse able to follow Kauto Star through with any comfort, and was not given a hard time. By contrast, the first two were pretty legless and it could be that Diamond Harry makes the biggest step forward. He was making only his fifth start over fences and had not been seen since winning the 2010 Hennessy.
Though off a low weight, the luxuriant way he travelled through the race that day permitted no doubt that Diamond Harry could break into the elite. Moreover for all James Reveley's talent – and the curious suggestion that it is his own decision to ride at Wetherby instead – he does not have anything approaching the experience of his replacement, Barry Geraghty. All in all, while lacking the blatant credentials of the front two, at 16-1 Diamond Harry looks each-way value at least to make the first three of eight.
A good winner of the William Hill Feltham Novices' Chase will surely be back next year for the King George, and for now Grands Crus (2.00) sets the standard. In the big one over hurdles, meanwhile, the relentless Overturn (2.35) could have the run of a race that should measure the respective decline and improvement in Binocular and Rock On Ruby.
Chris McGrath's Nap The Hollinwell (1.45 Weth)
Has shaped much better on his last two starts and, with doubts about one or two more obvious rivals, is worth chancing under a jockey now making the most of her claim.
Next best Scoter Fontaine (1.25 Kem)
Travelling better than the winner (who has scored since) when unfortunate to unseat at Ascot last time and clearly still on a competitive mark.
One to watch Time For Spring (Charlie Longsdon) has begun in handicaps off a fair mark, but was rather given the slip when drawing clear of the third at Ludlow.
Where the money's going Grands Crus is 11-8 from 6-4 for today's Kempton Feltham Novices' Chase.