03/16/2011 11:43AM

Cheltenham Gold Cup looks ready for new blood


Three former winners of the $804,000 Cheltenham Gold Cup Chase will line up for Friday’s 3 5/16-mile renewal, but the baton could pass to the young and improving Long Run, like so many of England’s best jumpers, a French-bred originally trained in France.

The defending title-holder. Imperial Commander, prepped with a win in Haydock’s three-mile Lancashire Chase, but that was back on Nov. 20, so the Nigel Twiston-Davies trainee may have difficulty living up to his role as William Hill’s 3-1 favorite.

Denman, seven lengths second in last year’s Gold Cup, 13 lengths second in 2009 and the seven-length winner in 2008, was 15 lengths third last time on Nov. 27 in the Hennessy Gold Cup Chase at Newbury when spotting the winner 26 pounds. His Paul Nicholls-trained stablemate Kauto Star, the Gold Cup winner in 2007 and 2009, was second to Denman in 2008 but fell four fences out in a dull effort last year. He disappointed last time,finishing 19 lengths third in the three-mile King George Chase at Kempton on Jan. 15.

Long Run was the 12-length King George winner over the absent Riverside Theatre. While the only two losses he has suffered in his last seven starts came at Cheltenham when he was third, most recently in a listed handicap on Nov. 13 when he was giving the winner 10 pounds, he looks ready for the biggest test of his career. Nicky Henderson will give a leg up on the 6-year-old 9-2 shot to the crack amateur rider Sam Waley-Cohen.

◗ Irish-trained horses dominated at the Cheltenham Festival on Wednesday, winning the first five races and taking the first four places in the feature, the $514,000, two-mile Queen Mother Champion Chase, which was won by the Henry de Bromhead-trained Sizing Europe, who at 10-1 beat three-time defending champ and 2-1 favorite Master Minded into eighth place.