Silviniaco Conti jumped to the head of the Gold Cup betting with winPICTURE: John Grossick (racingpost.com/photos)
Long Run beaten as Conti comes out on top
Report: Haydock, Saturday
Betfair Chase (registered as the Lancashire Chase) (Grade 1) 3m, 5yo+
NICKY HENDERSON suffered a second high-profile reversal of the afternoon as Long Run was a beaten favourite in the Betfair Chase for the second successive year.
While last year it was his old nemesis Kauto Star who proved to be too good for him, it was the rising star of the chasing world Silviniaco Conti who put him in his place this time around.
Like Kauto Star, Silviniaco Conti is trained by Paul Nicholls and after the six-year-old gave the champion trainer a fifth win in just eight runnings of this Grade 1, he was left thinking that he may already have a replacement in his care to fill the massive void left by the retirement of the super star chaser.
Silviniaco Conti, sent off a 7-4 chance for what was his seventh race over fences, is now as short as 5-1 joint-favourite for the Betfred Cheltenham Cup after making it two wins from two starts this season.
Indeed, such was the manner of his two and a half length victory over Long Run, that the champion trainer's thoughts turned to Cheltenham in March.
"I am not going to rush him," said Nicholls. "I might even go straight to the Gold Cup now.
"He loves to be fresh. I am not going to run him through the winter in the mud. He's only a baby. He could be really interesting come Cheltenham. He won't go to the King George."
Silvinaco Conti had cruised to victory in the Charlie Hall Chase at Wetherby on his last outing and Nicholls continued: "I don't think he got the credit he deserved at Wetherby.
"Long Run is a very good horse so for a six-year-old that was a very good performance. He jumps and he gallops and there is no better man in front than Ruby [Walsh]."
With none of the five keen to go on, Walsh took up the running with more than a circuit to go and Silvinaco Conti never saw another rival as he put in a fine round of jumping with Long Run battling on without every troubling the long-time leader.
Watching from Ascot, Henderson said: "We've got more to come and there's more we can do. The King George is without a doubt where we go next.
"I don't think he's done anything wrong and he has run a good race on horrible ground. We didn't want to get into a battle today and he has had a much nicer introduction than last year. It wasn't anything like as brutal. This was a much better start to the season. We go onwards and hopefully upwards."