All eyes will be on Gold Cup winner Long Run when he makes his eagerly awaited reappearance in Saturday's Betfair Chase at Haydock, due off at 3.05pm.
The Nicky Henderson-trained six-year-old is quoted at a shade of odds-on for the race, with several firms going 5/6, but this assignment might not be as easy as the odds suggest. His official rating of 180 gives him 12lb in hand of the next best rated horse, Kauto Star, and his performance at Cheltenham in slamming Denman by seven lengths in record time will live long in the memory, but this is his first run back after an absence of 246 days and it's worth remembering that he was beaten on his reappearance last season, that coming in a handicap off a mark of 158. The fact that Henderson's horses have generally needed their first run is another concern, while the trainer is bound to have left something to work on for the King George, his early season target.
I'm not saying he can't win but I think there are enough doubts to make him difficult to back at odds-on and I'd even back one against him in the shape of DIAMOND HARRY, who looks to have plenty going for him. Nick Williams' eight-year-old was due to make his reappearance in the Charlie Hall but he got cast in his box on the day of the race and had to be withdrawn. However, the problem was only minor and I fancy he can make up for lost time by winning first time out, as he has done in each of the five seasons he has been campaigned. And these were no mickey mouse races either with his finest hour coming in a high class renewal of last season's Hennessy at Newbury, which turned out to be his sole start as he sustained a leg injury when being prepared for the Gold Cup.
Given his fragile nature and his record fresh, you can bank on his trainer having him spot on for this Grade 1 contest and I've always thought this race would be ideal for him as he has excelled here in the past, winning both his starts (a hurdle and a chase). He does lack chase experience - this will be his fifth start over the bigger obstacles - and he has made mistakes, including when well beaten by Long Run in the 2010 RSA Chase. However, Saturday's small field should allow him to get into a nice rhythm and he's probably a safer conveyance than Long Run, who is capable of the odd howler and recent reports that he has required some additional jumping tuition sets alarm bells ringing. Put it this way, I'd rather back Diamond Harry at 6/1 (live on Ladbrokes) than take the odds-on quotes.
The Charlie Hall provides two challengers in Weird Al (7/1 bet365) and Time For Rupert (9/1 Coral), who finished first and second at Wetherby. Both are high-class chasers on their day but have broken blood vessels and have something to prove in this company. A bigger danger, therefore, looks to be Kauto Star, who could be having his last race here. Whether we get to see him race again is very much dependant on how he performs on Saturday and you can bank on his trainer Paul Nicholls having him spot-on for what could be his swansong. This race has always been his early-season target and it would be some achievement if he were to win it for the fourth time. With his stable in red hot form, I wouldn't rule it out and the 7/1 is tempting, although time is against him at the age of 12 and I just feel the younger legs of Diamond Harry will prevail in what is a race not to be missed.