Waley-Cohen escapes to face Kauto rematch
Fleetingly, even confirmation that one of the greatest achievers in steeplechasing history will be at Kempton on Boxing Day seemed less momentous than the possible absence of a part-time rider who spends most of his time running a chain of dental practices. As it turned out, despite an initial alarm to the contrary, the 12-day suspension picked up by Sam Waley-Cohen at Fakenham yesterday will not commence until New Year's Day – ensuring, so long as all parties remain sound in the meantime, that everyone should be present and correct for an epic renewal of the William Hill King George VI Chase.
For Waley-Cohen's relief that he could still renew his partnership with Long Run must have been matched by a heightened sense of their task in defending the prize they won last year. Paul Nicholls and Clive Smith have now settled their delicious dilemma over Kauto Star and Master Minded by resolving to run them both.
Their decision was at once audacious and unsurprising. True, there had been a theory that Kauto Star's rejuvenation at Haydock last month, when he served it up so unceremoniously to Long Run, owed so much to freshness that he should instead be held back until Cheltenham in March. It would not have felt right, however, for the only horse to have won the King George four years running to spend Boxing Day staring out of his stall. And, had Nicholls been in any doubt, then surely his mind was made up on Friday when he was obliged to announce the retirement of Kauto Star's next-door neighbour and rival, Denman. As Smith put it: "You've got to catch them when they're just right. The form he's in, if the race is there for him, you've got to run."
Ruby Walsh will ride Kauto Star, with Daryl Jacob on Master Minded. "My gut instinct, immediately after Haydock, was to put Kauto away for the Gold Cup," Nicholls admitted. "But he astounds me, this horse. He had a hard race there, but has just recovered so well. Last night I said to Clifford [Baker, Nicholls' head lad] that it was time we made a decision. 'You ride him every day,' I said. 'Where do you think he is?' And he just said: 'He's so well, you've got to run him.' For whatever reason, I think he's a better horse this season. Last year he was making a noise, and he bled after Kempton. I know Long Run will improve for Haydock, but I must say I thought he looked superb beforehand and the fact is he's got eight lengths to find with us."
Waley-Cohen won over even the most cynical punters on his father's champion at Kempton, and then in the Gold Cup, to the extent that the prospect of a professional taking over on Long Run would no longer prompt many to anticipate improvement. But that was the scenario that briefly beckoned when the Fakenham stewards banned Waley-Cohen for apparently taking the wrong course on Otage De Brion. In a clear lead with a circuit to go, he had bypassed the fence in front of the stands. "To be honest, what actually happened is I thought he'd swallowed his tongue," he said. "He landed and just made a hell of a noise. He's had an operation before, and we normally have a tongue-tie on him, but didn't today. I knew where I was going [but] I accept it doesn't look good."
Long Run's owner, Waley-Cohen's father Robert, had indicated that Barry Geraghty, stable jockey to the six-year-old's trainer, Nicky Henderson, would be the most likely substitute. On learning of his son's reprieve because the ban applies only on days when there are races for amateur riders, he declared: "It's a huge relief, and I'm thrilled for Sam."
* The popular sprinter The Tatling won his 176th and final start at Wolverhampton yesterday, just 20 days short of his 15th birthday.
Chris McGrath's Nap: Amroth Bay (1.50 Catterick)
Shaped with promise on his chasing debut.
Next best: Spot The Ball (3.40 Folkestone)
Typical slow-burner for these connections, with McCoy in charge today.
One to watch: Ceannline (Venetia Williams) travelled strongly before fading in testing going at Ludlow last week.
Where the money's going: Peddlers Cross is 7-2 from 4-1 with William Hill for the Irish Independent Arkle Trophy.
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