sport

Kempton date for Long Run

Long Run could tackle the 100,000 Kempton Park Chase at the Sunbury track on February 22 as a step towards a crack at the Grand National.

Owner Robert Waley-Cohen is keen to go for the world's greatest steeplechase at Aintree in April with his 2011 Cheltenham Gold Cup hero.

Long Run has failed to trouble the judge in three starts this term and unseated his amateur rider, Waley-Cohen's son Sam, at the final fence when in fifth place and out of contention in the King George VI Chase at Kempton - a race he has won twice.

The feeling is Long Run is not as good as he was and while another tilt at the blue riband has not been totally ruled out, connections of the Nicky Henderson-trained nine-year-old are now looking down the handicap route.

"I have to say this year hasn't gone at all according to plan and he's not been in the prize money for any of his three runs," Waley-Cohen told At The Races.

"Had he not tired and made those two mistakes, he would probably have been third or fourth, or thereabouts (in the King George), but that's not quite the same as last year when he won it after that great battle with Captain Chris.

"Maybe the handicapper has got it right and he's on the down grade and he should be marked down a lot.

"He hasn't had a massive number of races. He has had five years at the very top and there aren't many that go for more than that whatever age they start.

"I'm an eternal optimist and work on the assumption that he's still got it there and he'll come back to top form.

"His next race is pencilled in for February 22 at Kempton, a three-mile handicap chase, a 100,000 race.

"I think we will learn a terrific amount from what happens on that day. If he struggles off 163 round there, there's absolutely no point in going for the Gold Cup, but if he absolutely loves it and wins by a country mile then you'll have to put the Gold Cup back on the agenda, but we'd be slightly surprised if he achieves that.

"I think the Grand National is the more obvious course to be going at the moment.

"I think we will just go back to cheekpieces. They seem to work pretty well on him, so that is probably what we will do.

"I think it's quite exciting and Sam's record round Liverpool is extraordinary. He's won three races there - in the Topham and the Foxhunters.

"In the National itself, he's had a second, a fourth and a fifth and wouldn't we just love to win it."