Anyone in any doubt as to why jump jockeys take the risks they do need only have looked at Ruby Walsh's face and body language here yesterday on and off Kauto Star as he passed the post, pulled up, came back to the winner's circle, dismounted, returned to the weighing room, changed, came out and was legged up on his next ride.
The thrill of partnering, and winning on, the special talent beneath him rendered the normally loquacious Irishman temporarily speechless, put a little kid's diamond sparkle in his eyes and a lasting Zebedee bounce in his step. Kauto Star announced his arrival in the premier league with an effortless despatch of five high-class opponents and the sensations and emotions transmitted were as priceless as his jockey's eponymous gemstone.
"He is just unbelievably exciting to ride," said Walsh. "A machine. He wasn't off the bridle for a single stride. Going to the last I just gave him a squeeze and he opened up and his power and scope were unbelievable." So much so that they evinced a yell of sheer pleasure from the 27-year-old as he landed and headed away to victory.
Yesterday's Betfair Chase was the first test for Kauto Star, one of last term's best two-milers, not only against the real big boys but also over their tried-and-tested distance of three miles. And at their own game, the young gelding proved different class. Seventeen lengths behind him Beef Or Salmon, winner of nine Grade One races, won the battle for second against L'Ami, fourth in the most recent Cheltenham Gold Cup. "I didn't want him doing too much too soon and he settled for me and we just lobbed round," added Walsh. "He's just perfect." With stamina doubts now publicly allayed - for most of the race Ollie Magern and Iris's Gift set a demanding pace on testing, rain-soaked ground - Kauto Star, is now 6-4 favourite for next month's King George VI Chase at Kempton and is jostling War Of Attrition at the head of the Cheltenham Gold Cup market.
The winner's trainer, Paul Nicholls, admitted relief afterwards, but also that the result was much as he expected. "After he won at Aintree last month [over two and a half miles] Ruby and I had a chat and we agreed that I'd been trying to turn a Gold Cup horse into a Champion Chase horse. He jumps so much better at the longer trip, the slower pace gives him time to organise himself. But he had to go and prove it before we went to Kempton, which he now has. And he looked awesome."
The death of Desert Orchid six days ago was a reminder of how important a charismatic horse with stellar quality is to the sport and Kauto Star may just be the paragon that is a three-mile-plus chaser with two-mile speed. "My head lad, Clifford Baker, has ridden the likes of See More Business, Azertyuiop and Charter Party and he says this one is the best he's ever sat on," added Nicholls.
Kauto Star, still only six, has tended to cruise to victory; in four successes since arriving in Britain from his native France his aggregate winning distance is now 48 lengths. But though he is yet to get into a real battle he does not shirk a fight, having got up from a fall last year when he failed by inches to claw back the winner, and with a fractured hock to boot.
That the talented white-blazed bay should own such purring horsepower is entirely appropriate; he carries the colours of Virginia Waters-based businessman Clive Smith, a thoroughgoing sports enthusiast whose other prime interest is vintage Lagondas.
Yesterday's success puts Smith and his pits crew in line for the £1 million bonus offered if Kauto Star can follow up in the King George and then add the Gold Cup. Like Walsh's riding fee, it may be money for nothing. And, aptly, the stable also scored here yesterday with Kicks For Free.
At Huntingdon, another rising talent, Racing Demon, put his hat in the King George ring with a four-length defeat of Kauto Star's stablemate Thisthat-andtother to give trainer Henrietta Knight her seventh Peterborough Chase in nine runnings.
And at Ascot nine-year-old former dual champion hurdler Hardy Eustace served notice to the reigning king, Brave Inca, who runs at Punchestown today, that he is no back number as he administered a comprehensive 11-length drubbing to Mighty Man.
For the second time in four days racing was subjected to a telephoned bomb scare. After the hoax at Hexham on Wednesday, the last race at Lingfield was abandoned yesterday and the stands cleared.