The opposition to Long Run, who is now as short as 4-6 for the Betfair Chase at Haydock on Saturday, is diminishing, both numerically and figuratively. Rubi Light, one of seven entered against the returning Gold Cup hero in the first Grade One contest of the domestic campaign, will now not make the journey from Ireland after a below-par workout yesterday morning. And Time For Rupert's chance of victory was summed up by his own trainer as "a pipe dream."
Time For Rupert, who lost his unblemished record as a novice last season when suffering a pulmonary haemorrhage in the RSA Chase at the Cheltenham Festival, joined battle as a senior with second place in last month's Charlie Hall Chase at Wetherby. And though Paul Webber is certain that the burly star of his Oxfordshire string will strip fitter this time, he also acknowledges that his upcoming test, three miles round the flat acres of Haydock, is unlikely to play to his strengths.
"We were very pleased with Wetherby," he said. "The horse passed the health test and recovered really well and, after his experience in March, that was the most important thing. He seems in very good order; with a race under his belt he is a lot tighter, something like eight or 10 kilos."
The seven-year-old's last three victories and all his best performances have come at jump racing's showcase venue in Gloucestershire, clearly a course for this particular horse. "What he needs is a stiff three miles or more, and an uphill finish," added Webber. "I think it's a pipe dream of beating the Gold Cup favourite round Haydock, but we might have a better chance round Cheltenham."
Last year's Ryanair Chase third Rubi Light was poised to beat Sizing Europe when falling at the final fence at Gowran Park last month, but has not fully recovered from a recent infection. "The race is a week too soon for him," said his trainer, Robbie Hennessy. "He's back to 90 per cent, but that's not enough."
With Ruby Walsh on the dual Gold Cup winner Kauto Star at Haydock, Daryl Jacob,No 2 at the Paul Nicholls yard, will partner stablemate Master Minded for the first time in public in the Amlin 1965 Chase at Ascot. The former two-mile champion will be on an important retrieval mission after recent defeats.
Sir Henry Cecil was knighted by the Queen yesterday and his charge Frankel was named Horse Of The Year at the end-of-season Cartier awards ceremony in London last night. Divisional prizes went to Danedream (three-year-old filly), Dream Ahead (sprinter), Fame And Glory (stayer), Cirrus Des Aigles (older horse), Dabirsim (juvenile colt), Maybe (juvenile filly) and Barry Hills (award of merit).
Chris McGrath's Nap
King's Grace (1.40 Hexham) Regarded as one of the best young chasing prospects in his powerful yard, he may well take high rank as a novice hurdler.
Deputy Dog (1.30 Warwick) With the application of blinkers and A P McCoy can start to fulfil the promise of his chasing debut in the spring.
One to watch
Mabel Tasman (Neil Mulholland) ran with much promise in smart company two weeks ago after a long, injury-provoked absence and is likely to start off in handicap hurdles on an attractive mark.
Where the money's going
Oscar Whisky is a solid 6-4 favourite with most firms for Saturday's Coral Hurdle at Ascot.
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