This could prove one of those occasions when there is no point complicating matters. Long Run, beaten only by the record-breaking Kauto Star in three Boxing Day starts over the course, is much the most likely winner of the William Hill King George VI Chase at Kempton tomorrow. And while the retirement of Kauto Star, who won the race for a fifth time last year, suggests the time is ripe for a changing of the guard, it is surely premature to make too much of the anomaly that Long Run – in approaching only his eighth birthday – increasingly represents the old order.
With so many miles on the clock, for one of his age, there is admittedly a feasible case to be made that the engine nowadays operates at slightly lower horsepower than when Long Run appeared to have ended the Kauto Star era here, two years ago.
The fact is that Long Run has been beaten in four of his last five starts, his only success being a scrambled, half-length defeat of Burton Port in his Gold Cup trial last season. Even in defeat, however, his form sets a clear standard in what no longer seems a vintage field, following the loss to injury of Al Ferof, and to Leopardstown of all three potential Irish raiders.
Long Run was beaten on his reappearance for the third year running when second to Silviniaco Conti at Haydock last month. But the winner did enjoy the run of the race and Long Run saw things out with auspicious determination, despite having looked too fresh and free in the early stages. He will come on for the run, plainly adores an end-to-end gallop round this sharp track, and the demanding conditions will surely undermine rivals who are stepping up in trip tomorrow. Long Run has largely raced on better ground since his arrival from France, but seemed to cope well with pretty awful going at Haydock.
Of those with stamina to prove, Cue Card is the one with the combination of youth and class to open a new chapter in elite chasing. He has always had tons of ability, was devastating in the Festival Bumper in his youth, and after appearing to discover his limitations as a novice over both hurdles and fences, he could yet find fulfilment over this kind of trip. He was deeply impressive on his reappearance, but the extra distance in this going demands an unnerving leap of faith.
Though beaten a long way when third last year, Captain Chris could offer value. He seemed to lose his way last season, having looked a top-class chaser in the making, but appeared to regroup somewhat on his return.
* Thursday's Welsh National at Chepstow has been postponed to 5 January due to a waterlogged track.
Chris McGrath's Nap
Ski Sunday (2.20 Wetherby) Very well treated on his best and has been steadily returning to form, now clearly ahead of the game off the same mark as when beaten a nose at Ffos Las last week.
Royal Sea (3.45 Wolverhampton) Qualified for a modest mark while learning the ropes and was duly well backed for his handicap debut, just regrouping too late in fifth and looking likely to relish this extra furlong.
Where the money's going
As big as 4-1 just a couple of weeks ago, Long Run is now 7-4 favourite with the sponsors for the William Hill King George VI Chase.