Run must go Long way to convince
Gold Cup credentials on line in Denman Chase
HURRICANE FLY, Big Buck's and Sizing Europe have all laid down the gauntlet for up-and-coming rivals, and all three are short prices to retain their respective crowns from the Cheltenham Festival.
The big championship race winner who has not been as convincing so far this season is Gold Cup hero Long Run, but he may get a chance to prove his wellbeing on Saturday in the Betfair Denman Chase.
Named after the 2009 Gold Cup winner, the Grade Two race has attracted 11 entries, including the current Gold Cup hero who has twice been defeated by Kauto Star this season.
It'll be a big weekend for Gold Cup prospects as the Hennessy Gold Cup will also take place at Leopardstown on Sunday.
Nicky Henderson will be keen to get a run into one of his chief Cheltenham candidates after plans for Binocular and Oscar Whisky were scuppered last weekend due to the snow and cancellations of Sandown and Ffos Las.
Paul Nicholls, whose Kauto Star still lies second in the betting behind Long Run despite those two victories this season, could be represented on this occasion by the trio of What A Friend, Tidal Bay and Aiteen Thirtythree.
Owned by Alex Ferguson, What A Friend is a 40/1 shot for the Gold Cup next month, a race he was fourth in last year, and connections expect a bold showing this weekend.
"What A Friend has been trained for two races this year -- the Cheltenham Gold Cup and the Punchestown Gold Cup. I expect Daryl (Jacob) to ride him in the Gold Cup," said Nicholls.
"He runs in the Denman Chase on Saturday. He was beaten a head in it last year with a 10lb penalty and then ran an absolutely corking race in the Cheltenham Gold Cup."
Nicholls added: "We couldn't run him after Wetherby in October as he came back really sick, but he goes well fresh. He's way more forward in his coat than he was this time last year, so I can see him running really well on Saturday.
"He's 40/1 for the Gold Cup and, when you look at some of the horses in behind Long Run and Kauto Star, I think he's a massive each-way bet."
Hurricane Fly, Big Buck's, Sizing Europe and Long Run all to win their respective races at this year's Festival is 16/1, from 33/1 just over a week ago.
Interestingly, Ruby Walsh, who will ride Hurricane Fly, Big Buck's and Kauto Star in three of the four big championship races, is 13/2 to win three or more of them.
For the quartet of Hurricane Fly, Quevega, Big Buck's and Kauto Star all to win, Paddy Power offer 25/1.