Racing: King's coronation a triumph for Ireland, for Taaffe - and for Arkle

Geraghty claims his stylish Gold Cup winner 'would have beaten Best Mate'
Click to follow
The Independent Online

Kicking King won the Cheltenham Gold Cup for Ireland yesterday. He won it for his jockey Barry Geraghty and trainer Tom Taaffe. Most of all, though, he won it for history.

It was on this same acre 39 years earlier that Arkle completed his hat-trick in National Hunt racing's great blue riband. He did so in the hands of a man we know as Pat Taaffe, the person Tom Taaffe remembers as "Daddy". The family name has been returned, once again, to jumping's apex.

"I'm just so proud to get the Taaffe name back on the roll of honour," Tom Taaffe said. "It is a famous name which got its recognition. It's gone a bit quiet in the interim, but I'm delighted it's back. You'd be ashamed of dropping the name down wouldn't you?

"I'm very sorry for the connections of Best Mate [who would have been going for a fourth Gold Cup] that he couldn't run, but if anything was going to break the history thing it was Kicking King and the Taaffe name. I'm happy about that, particularly to protect Arkle's record. I'd cry but I can't in front of you all."

Such was the impression created by Kicking King yesterday that speculation arrived quickly that the seven-year-old could become the next horse to complete the hat-trick.

The Gold Cup is never a race to be taken or given lightly, but there were suggestions that yesterday's was a pale renewal in the absence of several leading chasers. But while it may have been an inferior blue riband, you could not say the same about the winner.

"Maybe it wasn't the highest class Gold Cup ever, but you still have to run round and jump," Taaffe added. "He's put in a spectacular round of jumping. There was never an anxious moment for me through the race.

"It was all so easy for him because he's got so much class. He is a very high-class athlete. This horse has the chance and the scope to come back here and win another couple of these."

Yet, two and a half weeks ago, it appeared that if Kicking King was to come to Cheltenham it would be only to take the spa water. The gelding scoped dirtily and was seemingly out of the Festival. Taaffe telephoned this news to Kicking King's owner, Conor Clarkson, who was driving down a motorway in Spain. Clarkson pulled over and sat still for two hours, weeping. There were different tears yesterday.

"Four days after that, in the paddock, the horse almost came in over a gate," Taaffe said. "The wheels were back on the wagon. I didn't decide to come here. The horse told me, because he was so well."

Kicking King's appearance and performance also spoke persuasively yesterday. He looked primed for the job in the paddock, his huge powerhouse backside swaying as he circled.

In the race itself he was positioned some way back by Geraghty, in the slipstream of another fancied horse, Strong Flow, as Grey Abbey tugged the 15-strong field along.

The other two supposed big guns struggled from the outset. Celestial Gold, who demolished the first, was kept back in the long grass by Timmy Murphy but never emerged. Beef Or Salmon also rearranged a selection of fences before he was pulled up late on.

By then, Kicking King had pulled himself to the lead with his gaping stride and there was just one other, the interloper Take The Stand, at the top table. He too was left behind from the second last, however, as the Irish 4-1 favourite galloped clear for a five-length victory.

"It was easy, the nicest job in the world," Geraghty reported. "There was no rush to make a move. He jumped the last three brilliantly and just dossed when he hit the front. He is some tool. A machine. He's only seven and is going to be a serious horse next year, please God he can come back and do it all again. He'd have beaten Best Mate today."

Geraghty returned to a crackling winner's enclosure brandishing the tricolour of his homeland. Taaffe helped Kicking King to a gulp of water and drenched those in the vicinity with what remained in the bucket.

Kicking King had proved he could stretch his talents to this more extreme distance. "I told you he would stay and when I tell you something it usually happens," Taaffe said. "I don't say too many things. But I must say my legs were shaking when he came to the last."

They will be shaking again soon. "The party starts now and it won't be stopping for a few weeks," he said.

It all seemed so fitting, so in tune with the fates. It took Taaffe's mind back to a previous race, when he excitedly took Kicking King to the four-year-old bumper at Leopardstown, on the day young Pat Taaffe, the original's grandson, was born. After supervising the beginning of this great story, Tom Taaffe had only just enough time to get to the family foaling, to which he was transported swiftly by squad car.

"I said then that we had found the new Pat Taaffe," the trainer said, "and all we needed was to find the new Arkle."

Gold Cup result

1. Kicking King 4-1

2. Take The Stand 25-1

3. Sir Rembrandt 12-1