Long Run and ‘The Greatest Gold Cup’ will always be special for Waley-Cohen

Long Run can lay claim to many astonishing achievements throughout his stellar career, but he will always be remembered best for the day he ended an era in the 2011 Cheltenham Gold Cup, bursting through the clouds to slay the great Ditcheat duo of Kauto Star and Denman.

Owned by Robert Waley-Cohen, Nicky Henderson’s first Cheltenham Gold Cup winner was for a long while considered the heir apparent of the staying division and had already marked his territory by winning the King George earlier that season.

But it was the moment he crossed the Gold Cup finishing line that was seen as the passing of the torch moment and a victory made all the more remarkable by the fact the man in the plate going toe-to-toe with Ruby Walsh and Sam Thomas up the Prestbury Park hill was in fact an amateur in the owner’s son, Sam Waley-Cohen.

Of course, the by-day dentist was far from plucked off the streets to partner a horse who was already a multiple Grade One winner. But it added to the mystique of this brilliant French import, who at the tender age of six had climbed to the top of racing’s mountain.

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“Winning the Gold Cup has to be classed as his best performance ever – you can’t beat that,” said Waley-Cohen senior.

“You had multiple Gold Cup winners in that race and they were the ones coming down hill who looked like they were going to do it all over again.

“Sam was brilliant on him that day and he was not an easy ride – he did thump some fences on the way round.

“I still treasure the front cover of Owner Breeder magazine that has a picture of him coming over the last in front of Kauto Star and Denman and says ‘The Greatest Gold Cup’.”

Long Run races up the hill to win the Cheltenham Gold Cup
Long Run races up the hill to win the Cheltenham Gold Cup (David Davies/PA)

Even though only six when storming up the Cheltenham hill to claim National Hunt racing’s greatest prize, Long Run had already cemented his place in his owner’s affections.

For this was a horse that had seen the winner’s enclosure eight times in France before he burst onto the British scene aged only four.

Long Run’s Feltham Novices’ Chase success would be the first of three magnificent victories at Kempton, with the gelding returning a year later to claim the King George VI Chase and then adding a second victory in that contest in 2012.

That second King George, when rallying to collar Captain Chris in the shadow of the Kempton winning post, would be the final top-level success of Long Run’s decorated career, but by that point he had already accomplished things his connections could only dream about.

Long Run in action when winning his second King George
Long Run in action when winning his second King George (Steve Parsons/PA)

Waley-Cohen continued: “He achieved things no other horse has ever done. He’s the only horse to win the Grade One three-year-old hurdle and the Grade One four-year-old chase in France and the only four-year-old to win a Grade One chase in the UK when he won the Feltham.

“The shortest race he ever ran in was the Kingmaker over two miles and he won that – and there isn’t many horses who would have won a Kingmaker and a Gold Cup.

“He was unbelievable in the Feltham and after the race he walked into the winner’s enclosure and looked around as if to say ‘ah, my subjects have come to admire me, how nice’. He was imperious, totally imperious and only four years old.

“What he achieved as a youngster was astonishing and when he won a Gold Cup, he was only six. He won Grade Ones for five consecutive years, not many horses can do that.

“They say French horses don’t last and they are right, but if you can win Grade Ones over five straight years, it doesn’t matter. Not many stay at the top that long.”

Waley-Cohen has since added a Grand National to Long Run’s Gold Cup triumph thanks to the exploits of Noble Yeats in 2022 and although there may have been 11 years between those two big-race successes, the one constant was his son in the saddle, adorned in the family’s orange and brown silks.

Sam may have hung up his saddle after sprinkling Aintree glory on his decorated amateur CV, but the part he played in many special days – especially aboard Long Run – will live long in his father’s memory.

“He really was an amazing horse and gave us an enormous amount of pleasure. Doing everything with Sam on board only added to the pleasure,” explained Waley-Cohen.

Long Run with Nicky Henderson and both Robert (left) and Sam (centre) Waley-Cohen
Long Run with Nicky Henderson and both Robert (left) and Sam (centre) Waley-Cohen (Ben Birchall/PA)

“You can’t match winning Grade One races at the highest level with your son on board. You would be thrilled to win them anyhow, but when your son is on board – which we were quite strongly criticised for – it is special. In the end, the jockey didn’t do too bad.

“To my mind, he only ran one disappointing race in the whole time we had him and that was in the Gold Cup the following year (2012), where Sam rode him impeccably and produced him at the exact right moment, but for whatever reason he didn’t spark and finished third. Something didn’t fire that day, but horses are horses.”

Long Run is now very much part of the furniture at the Waley-Cohen family farm in Warwickshire, where he enjoys a well-earned retirement and serves as a constant reminder that just sometimes, racing dreams do come true.

Long Run in action at Cheltenham
Long Run in action at Cheltenham (David Davies/PA)

“He is in great order and he’s out in the field at 19 years old and very happy,” said Waley-Cohen.

“He had a very good time after he retired from racing, we used to ride him round the farm and the great thing about him, like so many horses, he completely understood when Sam wanted to put his very small daughter on a leading rein, he would behave impeccably. Now he’s fully retired and out at grass.

“He’s been with us a long time and we’ve owned him for 16 years now and we bought him as a three-year-old, so we’ve had him a long time.”

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