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Last Updated: December 23, 2011 1:20pm
Master Minded: Connections expect him to stay
Paul Nicholls' four-time winner Kauto Star has been declared alongside stablemate Master Minded in the William Hill King George VI Chase at Kempton on Boxing Day while Nicky Henderson's Long Run, hero of the race last season as well as the Cheltenham Gold Cup, is all set for the rematch.
Ruby Walsh knows Kauto Star better than anyone, having ridden the majestic 11-year-old in each of his King George victories as well as his two Gold Cups.
The Irishman also helped Kauto Star secure his historic fourth Betfair Chase at Haydock last month, when he pulled eight lengths clear of Long Run.
"Paul and I think he is probably better going the other way, but he has a great record at Kempton," said Walsh.
"Long Run is obviously going to improve and Paul had made no secret of the fact he had Kauto spot on (at Haydock).
"I'd imagine Nicky Henderson had bigger things in mind and he got caught on the day - he's the one we have to beat and he'll be sharper and fitter."
Walsh has also ridden Master Minded, the mount of Daryl Jacob, many times before and is not concerned the horse is stepping up to three miles for the first time.
"I don't see any issue with him staying, as he has got older he wants a trip," he told Racing UK.
"He settled well at Ascot and jumped super for Daryl, he'll get a great ride off him.
"I've ridden in a lot of King Georges, you either stay or you don't. You can't go round and hope you stay.
"I think Master Minded will stay and he has the pace to lay up. He maybe might have (stepped up in trip without Kauto Star in the same stable).
"He won a Champion Chase as a five-year-old, then went to Aintree and it looked like he didn't stay but maybe that was a race too far for a five-year-old."
Clive Smith appreciates he not only has one horse of a lifetime in Kauto Star, but two through Master Minded.
"We've always felt Master Minded might develop into a three-mile chaser and he's always been very good at two miles and two-and-a-half," Smith told At The Races.
"He's been developing all the time, while Kauto has been doing his stuff around the courses excellently, of course."
Smith is simply happy to be involved in such an occasion, despite the obvious pressure.
"It's a great racing moment and I'll enjoy it as much as I can," he said.
"Obviously I'm nervous about it because I'm nervous for their welfare, but I like thrilling races and I think this is going to be one.
"I'm sure Long Run will be there, but hopefully he'll come second to one of my two!
"I can't tell you how exciting it will be. I started owning horses 20-odd years ago and to be in this position is quite immense.
"I was down at Paul Nicholls' yard on Monday morning to see the horses and they were going off to do a bit of schooling.
"I felt how lucky I was walking behind these two magnificent horses. It was a great feeling."
Henderson put Long Run through his paces over a few obstacles at Seven Barrows and believes he has the defending champion spot-on for the occasion.
"He jumped five fences this morning, he did his work yesterday and everything has gone totally according to plan," said Henderson.
"He's definitely straight now, how straight he was at Haydock, I don't know, but he's definitely there now anyway."
The trainer also has Binocular in the Christmas Hurdle and Bobs Worth in the Feltham as part of a glittering card in Sunbury.
"There are three fantastic races at Kempton on Boxing Day - you'd cross the world to watch them.
"It's nice to have three nice horses to run in them, but anything can happen."
Barry Geraghty has been formally booked to partner Diamond Harry for trainer Nick Williams.
Geraghty, who landed the Christmas highlight in 2004 and 2005 aboard Kicking King, steps in for the plum spare ride on the eight-year-old who is owned by the Paul Duffy Diamond Partnership and winner of last season's Hennessy Gold Cup.
He was last seen in the Betfair Chase where he was ridden by James Reveley, who will be in action at Wetherby.
Paddy Brennan has been booked to partner Tom George's Nacarat and the other three contenders - Captain Chris, Somersby and Golan Way - all stand their ground at the final stage.
Captain Chris is another to be taking a step into the unknown as the furthest trip he has tackled is two and a half miles.
Last year's Arkle and Punchestown Festival winner has only been seen out once this season, looking to have every chance in Exeter's Haldon Gold Cup before unseating jockey Richard Johnson at the last.
"All being well, he seems in very good form at home and I'm looking forward to it," said Johnson.
"Obviously the three-mile trip is the unknown factor, but he finished off his races last year very well and, fingers crossed, hopefully he has a very good chance.
"Ideally he wouldn't want too much rain, as the better the ground, the better he is.
"He's taking on the very best on Monday but he goes there in very good order."
Henrietta Knight, famed for her King George exploits, is keen to step Somersby up to this three-mile trip.
Regularly placed at the highest level and winner of a minor race at Kempton this term, the seven-year-old chased home Master Minded in the Amlin 1965 Chase at Ascot before finishing behind Gauvain in the Peterborough Chase.
"It's quite a tough race to start at three miles in, but I'm sure that will be the answer in the long run," Knight said.
"He's very well and I'm looking forward to running him.
"He ran well at Ascot but rooted out the third-last fence which didn't help. Had he jumped that he probably would have been closer.
"He's very well but I know it's probably a two-horse race between Long Run and Kauto Star and maybe Master Minded as well, but we are longing to run him.
"I think he's a trier, it's just he can't quicken at the end of his races over a shorter distance.
"We've been tempted to run him over three miles before but we've never found the right race for him. Anyway, he's all systems go for Monday."
Sheena West trains outsider Golan Way, who put in a bold round of jumping to oblige in the Future Stars Chase at Sandown.
"He's rated 150, so he can't run in many handicaps and he doesn't like winter ground," said the Lewes trainer.
"He likes going right-handed, he jumps well and we'll take our chance. You can only choose the track that suits. You can't choose the opposition."