Cheltenham Festival News

Festival flashback: Gold Cup glory with Long Run was stuff of dreams

Mon 22 Feb 2021

Long Run had to win a race for the ages as he surged clear of both Denman and Kauto Star to lift the 2011 Cheltenham Gold Cup.

A decade on, his name still resonates among his fellow heroes of a famed golden era of steeplechasing – as do the Corinthian achievements of father-and-son, owner-rider combination Robert and Sam Waley-Cohen.

Robert still recalls the “unimaginable” joy at seeing Long Run and Sam silence the doubters who wondered if an amateur jockey would be sufficiently adept for the most exacting of challenges, beating the very best to claim National Hunt racing’s greatest prize.

Waley-Cohen senior never harboured any such qualms – and vindication was emphatic.

Long Run had interrupted Kauto Star’s sequence of five King George VI Chase victories in six years – in an edition of the Kempton showpiece delayed three weeks by a frozen Christmas – and would go on to succeed Paul Nicholls’ great on Boxing Day 2012, too.

At the age of just six, his CV also included two Grade One victories in his native France and another on British debut in the 2009 Feltham Novices’ Chase at Kempton.

It was enough to send Long Run off favourite in his first Gold Cup to beat a mighty old guard comprising the three winners of four preceding renewals – dual hero Kauto Star, stablemate Denman and title-holder Imperial Commander.

Nonetheless, as the Waley-Cohens gathered to cheer on their horse and their man, there were thousands yet to be convinced about Long Run’s suitability to Cheltenham – where he had been beaten on his two previous visits, third in both the RSA Chase 12 months earlier and then the Paddy Power Gold Cup.

Waley-Cohen senior begged to differ.

“I wasn’t at all concerned (about Cheltenham) – and unlike many others, I wasn’t at all concerned about his rider’s ability to handle it, although the pressure was considerable,” he said.

“He was more than capable of doing a good job.”

 Waley-Cohen, Long Run and Henderson (Racingfotos)
Waley-Cohen, Long Run and Henderson (Racingfotos)

Ten years on, however, he is prepared to admit to a momentary consternation as to whether Long Run could match Nicholls’ two superstars as they joined battle ahead of him leaving Cheltenham’s back straight.

“There were definitely some concerns during the race, particularly when Kauto Star and Denman took each other on coming down the hill,” he said.

“As it turned out, that was probably to our advantage – they probably overdid it coming down the hill. But I thought ‘Oh no, we’re not quite good enough to get to them’ – then as he turned the corner and started to gain on them and jumped the second-last so well, I did shout extremely loudly.”

He was not alone.

“The noise from the place we were in was unbelievable from there to the line – we couldn’t quite believe what we’d just seen,” Waley-Cohen added.

“It was before the construction of the Princess Royal Stand, so we were in one of those ghastly little boxes in that old space – a whole bunch of us and a lot of Sam’s friends, including his then fiancee now wife.

“It was absolutely fantastic. It is the biggest National Hunt race there is – to win that with your horse and your son on board is just unimaginable.”

Yet he knew all along that – albeit with history against them – Long Run and his jockey had the credentials to become, respectively, the first six-year-old Gold Cup winner for almost half-a-century and first amateur to succeed since 1981.

“I thought he had every chance, and indeed he started favourite,” he said, referencing other factors behind Long Run’s near five-length defeat in handicap company four months earlier.

“It wasn’t that Cheltenham wasn’t his course, but two and a half miles wasn’t his trip – certainly not that early in the season.

“When he ran in the RSA, (trainer) Nicky (Henderson) said he was over the top by then. He’d been running in top-class races in France before he came over.

6

Long Run was a six-time Grade One winner, spread over five seasons in Britain and France

“He won Grade One races in five consecutive years, which is exceptional. He beat Denman, Kauto Star and Imperial Commander – the winners of umpteen Gold Cups before him – which was amazing.

“He’d also done something quite extraordinary the year before. As a three-year-old, he won the Grade One three-year-old hurdle in France, and as a four-year-old he won the Grade One four-year-old chase in France – which no other horse had ever done, and still hasn’t.

“Then he came over as a four-year-old, and in his first race in England he won the Feltham – so he’s the only four-year-old to have won two Grade One races in two different countries.”

Long Run was not, however, able to add a second Gold Cup – having to settle for third in both 2012 and 2013.

Waley-Cohen said: “The only thing I’ve never understood and never will, just to show how horses are not machines and how they break your heart, is how he didn’t win the Gold Cup the following year.

“Everything was going his way; Sam produced him perfectly, and he got beaten by two horses who had never beaten him on any other occasion.”

Long Run cannot tell us why, of course, either – but at the age of 16, five years after his retirement, he is still compensating his owner with a larger-than-life presence at their home on the Warwickshire-Oxfordshire border.

“He’s very much still around – he’s still with us at Upton,” said Waley-Cohen.

“We decided to allow him have a quite normal life, enjoying going out – he doesn’t like hunting, because he can’t understand why things don’t happen a bit quicker.

“He’s happy to stand around for 20 minutes, then he says ‘Right, time for something to happen now!’

“I didn’t want to train him for dressage or to go showing – he’s much too impatient to go showing. We did actually take him once to show off Gold Cup winners at Cheltenham, and he was a complete nightmare – he bounced around the paddock as though he was going to run in a race.

“My eldest son Marcus rides him a lot around the farm, and he enjoys going with the kids. He’s like an old pro going away from home, and an absolute idiot racehorse going back towards home!”

The memories endure for the Waley-Cohens, and the future promises much – including perhaps at this year’s Cheltenham Festival, and in part thanks to Long Run’s lineage.

Waley-Cohen bought him when he started to show great promise for owner Marie-Christine Gabeur and maestro French trainer Guillaume Macaire – having previously acquired Long Run’s half-sister Liberthine from the same source.

She went on to be a Cheltenham Festival winner and also mastered Aintree’s fences as heroine of the 2006 Topham Chase.

Her son Sure Touch won his bumper debut at Wincanton in January, and on Gold Cup day on March 19 the first edition of Cheltenham’s newest race – the Liberthine Mares Chase – will honour her.

The competition will be formidable, but Waley-Cohen will be trying to win it 10 years on from Long Run’s triumph.

“They’re both bred by Madame Benoit Gabeur,” he said of Long Run and Liberthine.

“Benoit also bred (dual Champion Chase winner) Master Minded, but I think they are all in his wife’s name.

“I bought Liberthine, who is five or six years older – she was Sam’s first ever winner against professionals in a novice chase at Stratford – (and then) Long Run was the fourth I bought out of the mare.

“Sure Touch won his bumper. Liberthine’s first foal won black type, and her second foal won a bumper – both fillies, both with foals in the yard now.

“She’s now retired, but she’s a granny.”

There will be no Cheltenham challenge this spring for Sure Touch, as Waley-Cohen nurtures a bright future for the five-year-old, but he could yet be double-handed in pursuit of the race named after Long Run’s sibling, on the anniversary of his Gold Cup glory.

“I won’t run Sure Touch (in the Champion Bumper), because I think it’s too tough a race for horses you hope have a very good future,” he said.

“But I definitely will run, if I possibly can, two or three others (at Cheltenham).”

Among them, Elusive Belle and Lust For Glory are contenders in the Liberthine – and although currently outsiders behind Irish big-hitters such as Elimay, no one will treasure victory more than their owner.

Covid-19 restrictions will prevent his son Sam from riding unless the current suspension of amateur jockeys lapses – but the Waley-Cohens may nonetheless yet be able to celebrate again on Gold Cup day 2021.

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