Captain Chris (left) and Long Run (right) at the last in the King GeorgePICTURE: Mark Cranham (racingpost.com/photos)
Brave Long Run battles to second King George
Report: Kempton, Wednesday
William Hill King George VI Chase (Grade 1) 3m, 4yo+
LONG RUN regained his crown in the King George VI Chase for Nicky Henderson and Sam Waley-Cohen, but was made to work incredibly hard, rallying to repass and fend off Captain Chris.
The heavy ground made the 3m trip a gruelling stamina test, and it was the winner of the rearranged 2010 contest who returned to the summit, the 15-8 favourite demonstrating his staying power.
Coming into the race, Long Run had questions to answer, as he his form last season failed to reach the heights of his 2010/11 campaign when he won the King George then the Gold Cup at Cheltenham.
This season's King George appeared one of the most open in years, but punters kept the faith, sending Long Run off favourite.
Junior and Champion Court cut out the early running, with Cue Card making a bad error at the first, and another mistake at the second. Long Run was just behind the leaders, with a sensible pace set through the first circuit.
Backers of The Giant Bolster knew their fate early, as Tony McCoy was niggling leaving the stands, and David Bridgwater's runner was quickly beaten after never really travelling.
Trainer David Bridgwater subsequently said: "He just wasn't at it today. He was a bit reluctant to go to post, then missed the first, missed the second and was then never travelling. There's always another day. He'll be back."
Junior began to fade, with the race appearing set up for Waley-Cohen and Long Run, but a shuddering mistake five out stopped momentum abruptly, with Champion Court still travelling, and Grands Crus moving well into third.
Rounding the final turn, Grands Crus could not quicken, leaving Champion Court and Long Run to do battle, with Captain Chris beginning to stay on from a long way back.
Now it was Champion Court's turn to feel the pinch, but the challengers would not go away from the favourite, as approaching two out, Captain Chris came to, and passed Long Run.
Ruby Walsh congratulates Sam Waley-Cohen following his victoryPICTURE: Edward Whitaker (racingpost.com/photos)
A slightly better jump from Philip Hobbs's runner at the last kept Captain Chris narrowly in front, but his gutsy effort was to come up just short, as Long Run rallied to snatch the lead back in the last few yards.
The winning margin for Long Run was a neck from Captain Chris [16-1] with Grands Crus a further 14 lengths back in third while Champion Court weakend to fourth.
Long Run is now as low as 5-1 with Coral, though generally a 6-1 shot (from 8) for the Gold Cup, while Captain Chris is 20-1 (from 33) for the same race.
Long Run's trainer Nicky Henderson said: "Both horse and jockey have put any doubters to rest. Long Run has proved stamina, willingness, guts, determination and Sam has given him a great ride as well. Between the two of them you couldn't fault it. It was hard work today but that's hard work ground. He has come back and deserved to win.
"We've done quite a lot of schooling. I've let him have a jump nearly every week. There were two rather untidy jumps towards the end which looked as though they might have been a bit expensive but at the end of the day that little extra at the end was enough to get him in front."
When asked if he thought he would win, Waley-Cohen added: "I didn't know and I didn't care, I just threw everything at him and he came back and said 'alright then'. It's wonderful when a horse picks up for you. He had to really want it and really, really fight for it and I admire the horse so much."
Richard Johnson, who rode the valiant runner-up, said: "He's run really well. I thought he'd win at the last, but Long Run is a proven Gold Cup winner and stays. It's just good to see my fellow back to form and I'm looking forward to riding him on better ground in the spring."
Tom Scudamore was pleased with Grands Crus, who returned to form in third. He said: "He ran a great race, I am just pleased he felt back to his old self today."
The Ryanair could be the Cheltenham Festival target for Champion Court, as trainer Martin Keighley said: "Looking at that run you'd have to say the Ryanair because he's still in front swinging in. I think with a drop back to two miles five he'll go to the Ryanair with a cracking chance. He'd probably run beforehand."
Connections of Cue Card also mentioned the Ryanair as a target at Cheltenham.