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Page last updated at 20:05 GMT, Friday, 18 March 2011

A golden year at Cheltenham

Long Run powers to Gold Cup victory
Long Run races away from former Gold Cup winner Denman

By Frank Keogh
BBC Sport at Cheltenham

The great battle of the steeplechasing generations served up a show like few before as the precocious young prince Long Run outdid the former Festival kings Denman and Kauto Star to win the Cheltenham Gold Cup.

A crowd of 65,000 bathed in warm spring sunshine cheered, gasped and roared their approval as three mighty horses vied for the crown up the daunting hill.

It was a breathtaking advertisement for National Hunt racing at its best. A proper showdown with a proper new champion at the end.

Many new marks were made as Long Run, the first six-year-old to win the race since another great, Mill House in 1963, claimed chasing's showpiece contest.

In the end, the French-bred King George VI Chase winner went away to win by seven lengths. And the frightening thing, for his rivals, is that he was not even foot perfect, with the odd sketchy jump.

"I asked him a lot of questions and he answered them all. It's a surreal moment, sometimes achieving your dreams is difficult to comprehend," said rider Sam Waley-Cohen of Long Run, who is owned by his father Robert.

Victory on the 7-2 favourite meant he was the first amateur jockey to win the race since Jim Wilson on Little Owl in 1981.

"This is a very emotional moment, The horse jumped awesomely and was very brave," said Sam, who when not riding runs the Portman Healthcare dental group.

"I didn't know whether I was coming or going at some of the fences. You go into them and throw everything at them, your heart, your soul and your guts.

"Not many amateurs have been lucky enough to have a go in this race. It's a very unique thing and I'm lucky to be able to enjoy it.

"The support from the professionals has been amazing. The likes of Ruby [Walsh] and AP [McCoy] are real mentors to the guys in the weighing room."

There's a changing of the guard now and Long Run is the champion

Denman and Kauto Star's trainer Paul Nicholls

Trainer Nicky Henderson was celebrating the first Gold Cup victory of his career just five days after his hopes of winning a second straight Champion Hurdle were shattered.

There were some edgy moments in the post-race conference when he refused to expand on the reasons for Binocular's shock withdrawal on Sunday from Tuesday's Champion Hurdle where he was due to defend his title.

Henderson said this was not the time to discuss Binocular, whom he had previously said was given medication for an allergy that would have led to a positive dope test had he run.

The Lambourn trainer has been saddling horses for 33 years and wanted to savour the moment.

"The Champion Hurdle has always been kind to us but this race hasn't, although we have never had a chaser like this," said the 60-year-old.

"The Gold Cup and the Grand National are the two races we have been missing and it is nice to get one of them in the bag."

This was the first time in 53 years the Gold Cup had been contested by three previous winners in the same race.

At one stage, the 2010 winner Imperial Commander was also in the mix before he hit the fourth fence from home and was pulled up lame.

Long Run came to the last alongside the former champions, moments that left the owner Robert Waley-Cohen, who will soon become chairman of Cheltenham racecourse, hoarse from shouting.

"Coming down the hill I thought we would struggle to overcome the two in front and I have to say that I didn't think it was possible to damage one's voice so much between the second last and the last," he said.

This was an emotional victory for the Waley-Cohen family. Sam's brother Thomas died of cancer aged 20 in 2004 and the jockey has his initials engraved on his racing saddle.

Sam Waley-Cohen celebrates Long Run's win
Sam Waley-Cohen enjoys the applause of the Cheltenham crowd

"It is a poignant moment," Robert told me. "Thomas loved racing and coming to Cheltenham and was quite close in age to Sam. He first got ill when he was about 11 and eventually succumbed nearly 10 years later."

Robert said Long Run could next head to the land of the horse's birth for a tilt at one of France's top races.

This race was not just about the winner, but also a chance to celebrate the Paul Nicholls-trained pair of Denman and Kauto Star.

Denman, who was diagnosed with a heart murmur that nearly ended his career following the exertions of his 2008 win, performed like his nickname The Tank. A battle-hardened fighter who refuses to give in.

Kauto Star, who some suggested should be retired after his King George defeat in third to Long Run two months earlier, proved it was right he should be aimed again at the contest he won in 2007 and 2009.

Both aged 11 and edging towards the twilight of their racing careers, they eventually went down to a horse five years their junior, with stablemate What A Friend a nose away in fourth.

Nicholls paid tribute to the winner, saying: "I'm not in any way disappointed that we didn't win, they were absolutely awesome. Denman, Kauto Star and What A Friend have all run their hearts out, but there's a changing of the guard now and Long Run is the champion."

Clifford Baker, head groom at Nicholls' yard, added: "It was great to see the young pretender come through and win, but the old boys ran their hearts out.

"Denman has never been out of the first two in six races at the Festival and Kauto ran another great race. They are legends."

The Racing for Change project is charged with marketing the sport to a new audience. On Friday, the horses did the talking.

In years to come, people will say: "I started following racing because of the 2011 Gold Cup."

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see also
Long Run clinches Gold Cup glory
18 Mar 11 |  Horse Racing
Closing stages of Gold Cup classic
18 Mar 11 |  Horse Racing
Cheltenham images
18 Mar 11 |  Horse Racing
Cheltenham Festival - day four as it happened
18 Mar 11 |  Horse Racing
Long Run 'has Kauto Star to beat'
25 Feb 11 |  Horse Racing
Kauto Star fails as Long Run wins
15 Jan 11 |  Horse Racing
Horse Racing results on your mobile
15 Feb 10 |  Horse Racing

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