Racing: Kauto Star has stamina to graduate in big test

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Such is the quality and fascination of events in Britain and Ireland this weekend that any racegoer who suffers from decidophobia might be advised to take a short break abroad. With horses like Kauto Star, Beef Or Salmon, Kingscliff, Racing Demon, Dempsey, Mighty Man, Hardy Eustace, Desert Quest, Clan Royal, Newmill, Asian Maze, Iktitaf and Brave Inca just a few of those in action today and tomorrow it really is a case of blink and you may miss it.

The focus at Haydock is on one of racing's newer promotional sponsorship ventures. A £1m bonus is on offer to any horse who can complete the treble in today's Betfair Chase, then either next month's King George VI Chase at Kempton or Lexus Chase at Leopardstown, and finally the Cheltenham Gold Cup. But the death of Desert Orchid earlier this week was something of a reminder that while sexy sums of money are all very well, the best public relations ally that this sport can have is a top-quality, charismatic performer.

Kauto Star is one who might one day fit that description, a good, upwardly mobile performer who just could be a special one. He has the looks - he is an upstanding bright bay with a distinctive white blaze - and potentially the talent. Today - his first try at as long as three miles - is his test-run for the King George. It is also the first time he's been allowed out to play with the big boys.

The opposition will test him thoroughly and should he overcome it, he will be entitled to be regarded as a serious chasing talent, even at this early stage of his career. Kingscliff, a big, bruising, heavyweight, won this race last year and enters today's fray off a wholly satisfactory seasonal debut at Wetherby. The Irish raider Beef Or Salmon, second 12 months ago, has already won nine Grade 1 contests; victory today would put him third on the all-time list, behind Istabraq (14) and Moscow Flyer (13). And from France comes L'Ami, fourth in the most recent Gold Cup and sharpened by a prep at Auteuil two weeks ago.

The likely soft ground will inconvenience neither Beef Or Salmon nor L'Ami. Nor should it Kauto Star (1.50), who has won in his native France at Auteuil and Enghien on tres collant, which normally translates as "Passchendaele". The six-year-old is taken to cope with the new stamina demands and the strength of the opposition, and announce his arrival in the premiership.

At Huntingdon, another young player in the "King George" frame has a little more to prove. Racing Demon, through no real fault of his own, has been dangerously burdened by hype; circumstances forced upon him the tag of being the "next Best Mate" (he is from the same stable as the late triple Gold Cup winner) but his brilliance is more potential than actual as yet.

His trainer, Henrietta Knight, has won six of the last nine Peterborough Chases, but the more battle-hardened Thisthatandtother (3.00), coming back from a minor injury and better treated than when he was third last year, can make it a feature chase double for the Paul Nicholls string.

Hurdlers take centre stage at Ascot. The former dual champion Hardy Eustace has sidestepped a clash with the reigning two-mile king at Punchestown tomorrow and though the veteran still lives up to the adjectival part of his name there are now younger legs out there on the park and he may have to give best to last season's top-rated stayer Mighty Man (1.35).

With deteriorating underfoot conditions not likely to be in Chilling Place's favour in the feature handicap chase, progressive Knowhere (1.05) may gain swift compensation for a novicey fall in a much better race a week ago. Back at Haydock, Jazz d'Estruval (2.20, nap), who goes well fresh, can take the day's most valuable handicap.

With Tony McCoy claimed for twice Grand National-placed Clan Royal in the Becher Chase at Aintree tomorrow, Barry Geraghty has come in for the plum ride on Brave Inca, who begins his title defence in the Morgiana Hurdle tomorrow at Punchestown with young pretender Iktitaf and star mare Asian Maze thoroughly worthy opponents.

Chris McGrath

Nap: Asudo (Ascot 2.35)

NB: Strike Back (Haydock 3.20)