Kauto Star and Silviniaco Conti shared the applause at Haydock yesterday, the former as he led the parade of runners before the Betfair Chase, the latter after he picked up the baton from his now-retired Paul Nicholls stablemate by winning the Grade One three-miler. And the old superstar should have thoroughly approved both the result and its execution as the young pretender Silviniaco Conti followed in his hoofprints in consigning Long Run to second spot with a virtually flawless round of jumping.
With only five runners, testing conditions and no obvious pacemaker, Ruby Walsh was happy to take the initiative on Silviniaco Conti who, having won the Charlie Hall Chase three weeks previously, had a fitness advantage over Long Run, making his first appearance since his third place in the Cheltenham Gold Cup in March. The Irishman produced a front-running masterclass, enabling his mount to bowl along happily within himself and show his scope and ability over a fence.
The six-year-old was faster through the air than his rivals, and quicker away from each obstacle. Long Run, winner of last year's Gold Cup, and The Giant Bolster, second in this year's edition, were untidy in places. The only semblance of misjudgement from the winner came when he was tight at the last, but he dealt with the situation nimbly, and had two-and-a-half lengths to spare at the line.
Twelve months previously, Kauto Star won his fourth Betfair Chase en route to a fifth King George VI Chase, but Silviniaco Conti will not be going to Kempton. In fact, his next race may be the Gold Cup, for which he is now as short as 5-1 joint-favourite with his Irish-trained contemporary Sir Des Champs. "We just might go straight to Cheltenham," said Nicholls. "He goes well fresh and I don't really want to run him round all winter in the mud."
Long Run, the 11-8 favourite, stayed on and had four-and-a-half lengths to spare over The Giant Bolster, who held Weird Al by a short head. The seven-year-old is generally 7-2 favourite for the King George, in which he finished second last year after winning the two previous editions.
Yesterday brought mixed fortune for his trainer, Nicky Henderson, who had an odds-on winner, Oscar Whisky, at Ascot, and an odds-on loser, Finian's Rainbow. Oscar Whisky left Raya Star trailing by eight lengths in the Coral Hurdle but Finian's Rainbow, unable to cope with the rain-sodden ground, trailed in a legless last of four behind Captain Chris, another King George-bound, in the Amlin 1965 Chase.