Cheltenham Festival

Trainer Philip Hobbs was rueing what might have been after seeing his gallant Captain Chris go one better than last year but eventually fail by only a neck to win the Grade 1 William Hill King George VI Chase at Kempton Park, denied close home by a back-to-form Long Run in a pulsating finish to the three-mile mid-season chasing championship, writes Elliot Slater.

Captain Chris’ owner Diana Whateley must have thought she had the star prize in the bag as her eight-year-old swept into the lead at the final fence and led on the run-in, only for Long Run to produce a renewed effort in the heavy ground to eventually wear down Richard Johnson’s mount in the shadow of the post. Both horses have rightly been commended on producing a terrific finish to the Boxing Day highlight, and Captain Chris once again showed how well he goes at the Sunbury track having finished third in the same event 12 months earlier behind the great Kauto Star and Long Run.

Better ground would certainly have helped Hobbs’ horse whose stamina was put fully to the test, but few could argue that he failed to see out the trip as the front pair pulled well clear of Grand Crus in third, and the front-runner Champion Court who came home in fourth. Those looking for Cheltenham betting tips will not get any help from Captain Chris’ connections, as his destination in mid-March remains to be seen. Diana Whateley’s husband Graham insisting that connections have a plan but are not going to reveal it just yet.

Betfair horseracing markets trimmed the King George runner-up to 20/1 from 33’s for the Cheltenham Gold Cup, while the 2011 Arkle Chase winner is half those odds for the Ryanair Chase over two-miles-five furlongs. Wherever he goes, if he turns up in similar form to at Kempton, Captain Chris looks sure to be very much in the thick of the action.