Racing: Kauto Star chases perfection but blunders could be dangerous flaw

As a token of humility, the weavers of ancient Persia would deliberately stitch a tiny flaw into their carpets. Their work was so perfect that they might otherwise be charged with impersonating divinity. In the case of Kauto Star, admittedly, a couple of gaping holes were crudely ripped from the very middle of the carpet, but two atrocious jumping errors were barely sufficient to dispel the celestial flavour of his performance at Kempton yesterday.

Instead they sooner served to authenticate his status as the new colossus of British steeplechasing. These feet of clay make him real, familiar, a little poignant - and far more exciting to follow. It is not just Ruby Walsh who must hold tight. Kauto Star is taking the sport on one hell of a ride.

Of course, racing could now persist in its incorrigible habit of answering every question with several new ones. Even this rout of a vintage field for the Stan James King George VI Chase will have hardened many against Kauto Star at Cheltenham in March, because the errors he made at two of the last four obstacles would certainly guarantee a repeat of his humiliating fall there last season. For the fences on the revived jumps course at Kempton seem to be packed with goosedown, not birch, and he will not be so indulged by the rigid obstructions awaiting him at Cheltenham.

Though success for the odds-on favourite was chiefly a matter of relief for his trainer, Paul Nicholls did not seem too alarmed by his jumping. "He never looks like falling," he said. "He can make mistakes, but let's not talk about his jumping as he keeps winning - and that's what matters."

But if it does seem slightly graceless to start with this one, blatant Achilles heel, it was also the very first thing on Walsh's mind when he pulled up. "He could not jump like that at Cheltenham," he said, "and hope to get away with it." So this is no mean-spirited quibble. Four out, Kauto Star barged the fence. And then, at the last, with the race in the bag, he decided to take off a step early and landed squarely on top of the fence, his front feet clumsily piercing the birch. In a way, it was precisely his lack of flair that saved him, because his centre of gravity is always so unambitious that his rump simply ploughed on, bringing everything else with it.

The first mistake, likewise, did not make the remotest difference to his ruthless rhythm. He snapped straight back on to the bridle and instead Monet's Garden, who had jumped exuberantly in the lead, suddenly dropped out of contention. They had galloped hard over dead ground for the first two miles, and for a few strides the four youngest horses in the race were all still on the bridle together, taking the overflowing grandstands to a gratifying brim of tension.

When the great white hope of the North faded so quickly, it was instead Racing Demon, given a deft, furtive ride along the rail, and Exotic Dancer who at last got Kauto Star off the bridle rounding the final turn. Both had stamina to prove, however, and it soon became clear that only the favourite still had reserves of energy. Sure enough, he left them staggering in his wake between the last two, and it must be said that his shocking final jump did not cost much momentum - certainly not compared with Kicking King, who conversely took one stride too many when cleaving the same obstacle here two years ago. Kauto Star completed the short run-in eight lengths clear of Exotic Dancer, who just outlasted Racing Demon for second.

There can be no doubt that this horse has the crude ability to retrieve the Totesport Cheltenham Gold Cup from the Irish. "I've never ridden a horse like him," Walsh emphasised. "He's a machine, and it's a privilege to ride him." Even so, the sponsor's offer of 5-4 would not be especially attractive even if it merely assessed Kauto Star's chances of a clear round. Coral go 2-1.

Either way, he has certainly freshened up the British scene, and in fairness he also produced some really athletic jumps yesterday - and they seemed every bit as casual as those twin blunders. What is more, he spent the whole race adrift on the outside and Walsh believes that he will be even better going left-handed. Given the very different demands of Cheltenham, he is likely to ride him a good deal more conservatively there, too.

"His best round of jumping was at Haydock, when we just dropped him in," Nicholls noted. "We will ride him [at Cheltenham] more like we did then, take our time. Today we couldn't do that, but he kept galloping. We planned to ride him here like we did in the Tingle Creek, have him about fourth and be positive. He wasn't concentrating at the last fence, he just stepped at it. There's the big crowd and the big screen, and he has just taken his eye off it."

After a hectic first half of the season, Nicholls will probably give him just one more run before Cheltenham, at Newbury on 10 February. The horse's versatility will enable his trainer to choose between the Aon Chase, over three miles, and the Game Spirit over two, depending on conditions.

Success at Cheltenham would secure Kauto Star a £1m bonus from Betfair, for taking in their race at Haydock and this one on the way. But there was a reprieve earlier on the card for WBX, who had made a similar offer in the hurdling division. Straw Bear, odds-on favourite for the Stan James Christmas Hurdle after his romp at Newcastle, was palpably struggling to keep up with Jazz Messenger round the home turn and ultimately faded into a distant fourth.

The Irish raider, meanwhile, maintained the gallop under Niall Madden to see off Noble Request, but he is probably not even the third best hurdler in a stable that already houses Harchibald, Iktitaf and the star novice, Aran Concerto. Noel Meade, who had stayed in Ireland for the big meeting at Leopardstown, will be rubbing his hands. So, too, the sponsors, who had already been rewarded for their support of the other Grade One race on the card, the Feltham Novices' Chase, when the outsider of the field, Ungaro, was protected from a reckless gallop by Mick Fitzgerald and so gave Keith Reveley the biggest success of his training career.

Jazz Messenger and Ungaro appear to remain peripheral candidates for the Cheltenham Festival, but only a prejudice for soft ground might make the same true of two arresting winners on the first day at Leopardstown. The filly, Lounaos, confirmed herself one of the best juveniles on the scene in the Durkan New Homes Hurdle, while Schindlers Hunt was a revelation dropped back to two miles in the big novice chase.

His jockey, Roger Loughran, was particularly elated, back on the scene of his excruciating misjudgement on Central House last Christmas. He has the chance to atone in the same race today, when their four rivals include Hi Cloy, the horse who pounced that day. Nobody is perfect, after all, man or horse - and that, as Kauto Star himself demonstrates so well, is exactly what makes them so interesting.

Suggested Topics
News
The surrealist comedian at the Q Awards in 2010
people
News
Russell Brand arriving for the book launch in East London
peopleRussell Brand cancels his book launch debate due to concerns about the make-up of the panel
Sport
Christiano Ronaldo enjoys his opening goal
champions leagueLiverpool 0 Real Madrid 3: Ronaldo and Benzema run Reds ragged to avenge thrashing from their last visit to Anfield
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Nicholas Serota has been a feature in the Power 100 top ten since its 2002 launch
art
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Awesome foursome: Sam Smith shows off his awards
music22-year-old confirms he is 2014’s breakout British music success
Life and Style
Six of the 76 Goats' cheese samples contained a significant amount of sheep's cheese
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
Contestants during this summer's Celebrity Big Brother grand finale
tvBroadcaster attempts to change its image following sale to American media group
Extras
indybest
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Dales attempts to sell British Breeze in the luxury scent task
tvReview: 'Apprentice' candidate on the verge of tears as they were ejected from the boardroom
News
Call me Superman: one of many unusual names chosen by Chinese students
newsChinese state TV offers advice for citizens picking a Western moniker
News
Wilko Johnson is currently on his farewell tour
people
Voices
New look: Zellweger at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
voicesRenée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity, says Amanda Hess
News
Let’s pretend: KidZania in Tokyo
educationKidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day
Life and Style
CHARGE BOOSTER: Aeroplane mode doesn't sound very exciting, but it can be a (phone) hacker's friend. Turning on the option while charging your mobile will increase the speed at which your phone battery charges
techNew book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone
Arts and Entertainment
Julianne Moore and Ellen Page are starring together in civil rights drama Freeheld
film
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

Solutions Architect - Permanent - London - £70k DOE

£60000 - £70000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

General Cover Teacher

£110 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Reading: Great opportunities for Cover...

Maths Teacher

£110 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Reading: QTS Maths Teachers needed for...

Maths Teacher

£110 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Reading: QTS Maths Teachers needed for...

Day In a Page

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker
Renée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity

'Renée Zellweger's real crime was to age'

The actress's altered appearance raised eyebrows at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Patrick Grafton-Green wonders if they can ever recapture the old magic
Thousands of teenagers to visit battlefields of the First World War in new Government scheme

Pupils to visit First World War battlefields

A new Government scheme aims to bring the the horrors of the conflict to life over the next five years
The 10 best smartphone accessories

Make the most of your mobile: 10 best smartphone accessories

Try these add-ons for everything from secret charging to making sure you never lose your keys again
Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time against Real Madrid: Was this shirt swapping the real reason?

Liverpool v Real Madrid

Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time. Was shirt swapping the real reason?
West Indies tour of India: Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Decision to pull out of India tour leaves the WICB fighting for its existence with an off-field storm building
Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?