Racing: Catch a Star - if you can

King George VI Chase: Boxing Day showpiece a perfect stage for the spectacular successor to Desert Orchid

After tomorrow's annual rituals, religious and secular, all ye racing faithful will gather at Kempton to observe the Boxing Day tradition that more often than not decides the staying chasing championship. And in this year's 56th King George VI Chase it seems a straight choice between following a star or opting for a white Christmas.

Kauto Star, the odds-on favourite, is the king in waiting. The upstanding white-blazed six-year-old, trained by the champion, Paul Nicholls, is unbeaten in three this season and has shown, by winning the three-mile Betfair Chase at Haydock and then the two-mile Tingle Creek Chase at Sandown, that he is that rare beau ideal, a stayer with sprinting speed.

The sheer class he exudes has lit up the season. For his rider, Ruby Walsh, one of the coolest, most natural horsemen among the jockeys' ranks, the mere thought of sitting on him induces a quickening heartbeat.

"He is thrilling," he said. "The power you feel, waiting on tap. You just have to give him one squeeze, and that's it.

"Very few horses can win a Grade One over three [miles] and then a Grade One over two. But it was more than that; it was the authority he had. He had them beat before the last and there was plenty left in the tank. At Haydock it took me a while to pull him up, and at Sandown, when a riderless horse came past him after the line, he took off again."

That Kauto Star has such a superior engine within his rather angular, bright bay frame is entirely appropriate. One of the other loves of his owner, Clive Smith, is vintage Lagondas, of which he owns a pair, and he likes his four-legged pride and joy's name to be pronounced to rhyme with auto.

Smith, too, feels the magic. His best-known horse previously was the brave Grand National runner-up Royal Auclair, but Kauto Star has been different from the moment he trounced a good rival, Foreman, on his British debut. "I have no background of horses," said Smith, "but I became attracted to the sport because of the spectacle and the beauty of the animals. You do become involved with them. They do such service for you, stir such emotions.

"I can still recall the real buzz I got that first time in my colours. He showed terrific speed as he went straight past Foreman, and you could see then that there was something extra-special there."

The Wentworth-based Smith, who has made his fortune from the development of golf courses in Surrey, trained as an accountant. With Kauto Star, the sums have more than added up, in the head as well as in the heart. The gelding had shown top-class form in his native France (his former trainer nicknamed him The Extra-Terrestrial because of his other-worldly talent) and was not cheap, costing Smith nearly £300,000.

He has already won back his purchase price, and should he add the King George to his Haydock win and then take the Cheltenham Gold Cup, the Grade One treble will bring a bonus of £1 million.

Such a feat, or even the promise of it if the second leg is safely secured on Tuesday, will take Kauto Star bounding over the fence that divides this sport from the wider public. It falls to few horses to do that; one who did, the four-time King George winner Desert Orchid, will be missing from the day he made his own for the first time in 20 years.

The great grey, who died last month, led the parade in the years since he ended his career with a fall in the 1991 King George. Since him, two more with snowy coats, One Man and Teeton Mill, have brought a whimsically seasonal touch to proceedings.

And Monet's Garden, the horse perceived as the one most likely to poop the Kauto Star party, is another Dessie lookalike. Or, more accurately, a One Man lookalike. The dappled Roselier eight-year-old is trained at Greystoke in Cumbria by Nicky Richards, whose late father, Gordon, sent One Man south 10 years ago to take the midwinter showpiece.

"Colour apart, the two are more than a bit similar to look at," said Richards, "though that is probably not too surprising as One Man's sire, Remainder Man, is the maternal grandsire of Monet's Garden. Their style of racing is much the same and, like One Man, Monet's Garden jumps very well."

Monet's Garden, owned by the Cheshire businessman David Yates, has had just one run this season, a defeat of top French chaser Mid Dancer at his local track, Carlisle, where he produced a metronomic gallop and series of leaps. He has never fallen, or even threatened to, in 15 runs; Kauto Star has been on the floor three times.

Though the grey Irish-bred has yet to tackle the King George trip over fences, he was formerly a high-class staying hurdler. "Three miles is his trip all right," said Richards, "and he'll be well suited by a track like Kempton."

The canny Cumbrian trainer is a realist, but there was a twinkle in his voice when he added: "From all accounts Kauto Star is a world-beater and the rest of us will be running for second place. But Monet's will be ready to do his best."

Seventy years ago, events beyond the control of racing's small world conspired to produce this invariably gripping contest round one of the country's fastest jump tracks. After Edward VIII ascended the throne in January 1936, those in charge at Kempton put in motion plans to honour him with the creation of a valuable Flat race the following year. When he announced his abdication in December the course executive decided that racing should be one of the first bodies to honour the unexpected new monarch. The first King George VI Chase was worth only £324 to the winner; Tuesday's hero will win some £120,000. And, possibly, immortality.

The thrill of Kauto: Anatomy of a special stayer with sprinting speed

Head

Find a horse with the right attitude - a willingness to join in man's games allied to a competitive spirit - and the job is half done. Too-small eyes and ears (Kauto Star's are bold and generous) can indicate pigginess of character. And the head acts as a counterweight, ideally in proportion to the body.

Hindquarters

This is the engine room, supplying push and power. A good length from the point of the hip to the hock (the equivalent of the human heel) is highly desirable, allowing the hind legs to swing under the body as they instigate each gallop stride.

Shoulders

A well-sloped shoulder, from the end blade of the scapula to where it joins the humerus, allows a pendulum-like swing to give liberty of action. The angle of the shoulder affects the set of the neck, another important element in light-footed balance.

Girth

Depth through the body, combined with a broad chest, indicates plenty of room for heart and lungs, the aerobic centre, within the ribcage. A thoroughbred's heart can weigh up to 15lb. At a guess, Kauto Star's will be near the upper end of the scale.

Breeding

Like so many modern high-class chasers, Kauto Star hails from France. His sire, Village Star, was a very good Flat runner who stood as a jump stallion; his dam, Kauto Relka, did not race but comes from an established jumping family.

Sue Montgomery

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Technical Presales Consultant - London - £65,000 OTE.

£65000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Technical Presales Engineer - central London ...

Recruitment Genius: Physiotherapist / Sports Therapist

£20000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Physiotherapist / Sports Ther...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive / Advisor

£8 - £9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Sales Executives / Advisors are required...

Recruitment Genius: Warehouse Operative

£14000 - £15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity has arisen for a...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans campaign: Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after £300,000 gift from Lloyds Bank

Homeless Veterans campaign

Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after huge gift from Lloyds Bank
Flight MH370 a year on: Lost without a trace – but the search goes on

Lost without a trace

But, a year on, the search continues for Flight MH370
Germany's spymasters left red-faced after thieves break into brand new secret service HQ and steal taps

Germany's spy HQ springs a leak

Thieves break into new €1.5bn complex... to steal taps
International Women's Day 2015: Celebrating the whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Simone de Beauvoir's seminal feminist polemic, 'The Second Sex', has been published in short-form for International Women's Day
Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Why would I want to employ someone I’d be happy to have as my boss, asks Simon Kelner
Confessions of a planespotter: With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent

Confessions of a planespotter

With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent. Sam Masters explains the appeal
Russia's gulag museum 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities

Russia's gulag museum

Ministry of Culture-run site 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities
The big fresh food con: Alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay

The big fresh food con

Joanna Blythman reveals the alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay
Virginia Ironside was my landlady: What is it like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7?

Virginia Ironside was my landlady

Tim Willis reveals what it's like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7
Paris Fashion Week 2015: The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp

Paris Fashion Week 2015

The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp
8 best workout DVDs

8 best workout DVDs

If your 'New Year new you' regime hasn’t lasted beyond February, why not try working out from home?
Paul Scholes column: I don't believe Jonny Evans was spitting at Papiss Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible

Paul Scholes column

I don't believe Evans was spitting at Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible
Miguel Layun interview: From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

Miguel Layun is a star in Mexico where he was criticised for leaving to join Watford. But he says he sees the bigger picture
Frank Warren column: Amir Khan ready to meet winner of Floyd Mayweather v Manny Pacquiao

Khan ready to meet winner of Mayweather v Pacquiao

The Bolton fighter is unlikely to take on Kell Brook with two superstar opponents on the horizon, says Frank Warren
War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable