Racing: Legend's spirit alive in daunting presence and deft technique

Everybody knows that Arkle the legend will never be beaten but here yesterday a flesh-and-blood horse called Kicking King won the greatest steeplechase of them all in a way that made more than a little magic of his own.

He won quite beautifully a Gold Cup that was supposed to be stripped of the highest class after the withdrawals of the three-times champion, Best Mate, and the second favourite Kingscliff. This, though, according to one of the most formidable judges of horseflesh that racing has ever known, was the least of the achievement of the seven-year-old new pride of Ireland.

As the electricity generated by perfect performances from Kicking King and his exultant jockey, Barry Geraghty, ran through the Gloucestershire valley, the suggestion was that something more than a golden spring day had been seized. It came from Charlie Swan, who made extraordinary history of his own here with three Champion Hurdle wins on the back of the beloved Istabraq, who said that Kicking King could well have besieged the future as well as a little of the past once owned so exclusively by the fabled Arkle.

After congratulating trainer Tom Taaffe, son of Arkle's three-times winning rider Pat, Swan said: "This was a great performance and, yes, I have to say this is the horse that could go beyond Arkle's three wins. Best Mate drew level, and it is sad that he couldn't race today, but you just couldn't say enough about Kicking King's performance today. As a seven-year-old he obviously could come back and win three more times. That's a lot to say, but then he has a good trainer in Tom Taaffe and looking at him today he seemed to have all the ability in the world.

"Everything was so perfect in the performance - he was running keen most the time. This was a horse totally in control of everything around him."

Here again we saw the folly of downgrading the blue riband of steeplechasing, the race which investigates the last fibre of a champion's will and, just when it is supposed to be in terminal decline, throws up a star like Kicking King - a handsome flier who made nonsense of talk that he might not stay the most demanding three miles, two furlongs and 110 yards in all of racing.

Not only did he stay, he did it so imperiously there was never any question that he would do anything but conquer.

Three fences from home the victory had become a formality. He jumped it with a conviction, and then a quickening pace, which banished all challenge. No, maybe he wasn't as pulverising as Arkle, maybe down the years the kind of power and consistency that tore up the handicaps will remain some way beyond the range of the new champion. Arkle, after all, was a phenomenon of the ages. What the evidence says about Kicking King is that he is a marvellous athlete of thrilling potential, a horse of daunting presence and deeply impressive technique.

The same has to be said of him as it was of Best Mate. You can only be the best of your day, and there was no doubt here last night that Kicking King had established that credential. The passing of the crown was for the trainers, Taaffe and Best Mate's Henrietta Knight, a moment of great joy and poignancy. When Knight saw Taaffe walking from the winner's enclosure she rushed to him and they embraced for quite some time.

It was rather more than the polite exchange of congratulations and thanks. It was a close-up of the emotion and pain that comes when you guide a horse through the perils of a year, when you bring him to a moment of supreme achievement. "That was incredible, Tom," said Henrietta. "It was a wonderful achievement - a great thing to see."

Henrietta's husband, the gnarled old former champion jockey Terry Biddlecombe, was less delicate. He burst into a victory conference where Taaffe was promising a winning party that would stretch into something nearly as epic as his horse's performance, and yelled, 'Taaffe, well done'."

Well done, indeed. Well done for the brilliant renewal of racing legend, of high achievement and careful stewardship of the highest talent. Taaffe endlessly told the story of how when the four-year-old Kicking King won a bumper at Leopardstown, his son was being born without his attendance. They called the boy Pat, reported Tom to a stream of interrogators, and then he said that all they needed now was to find the new Arkle.

Kicking King may not be the new Arkle - that item may forever be locked in the strongroom of racing - but when he so beautifully responded to the promptings of his jockey he was more than a passable substitute. He had become a new name, a quick, fine talent and some racing insiders were saying that if their sport was boxing there would be instant pressure for a dream race at Kempton Park next Boxing Day, a King George Vl battle between Best Mate, the supplanted champion, Moscow Flyer, the heart-throb of Cheltenham this week, and the contender who here swept so spectacularly to the title.

It probably won't happen, but there is intrigue and excited speculation about the next few years in the life of Kicking King. He won more than the blue riband of chasing. He brought the great festival of Cheltenham back to triumphant life on what will always be its most important day.

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

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

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Client Account Executive

£23000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Client Account Executive is r...

Recruitment Genius: Telemarketing Executive

£7 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Full Time position available now at a growing...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + competitive + incentives + uncapped comms: SThree:...

Ashdown Group: Reporting & Analytics Supervisor - Buckinghamshire - £36,000

£34000 - £36000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Analytics & Reporting Tea...

Day In a Page

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory
Ashes 2015: Alastair Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Aussie skipper Michael Clarke was lured into believing that what we witnessed at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge would continue in London, says Kevin Garside
Can Rafael Benitez get the best out of Gareth Bale at Real Madrid?

Can Benitez get the best out of Bale?

Back at the club he watched as a boy, the pressure is on Benitez to find a winning blend from Real's multiple talents. As La Liga begins, Pete Jenson asks if it will be enough to stop Barcelona
Athletics World Championships 2015: Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jessica Ennis-Hill and Katarina Johnson-Thompson heptathlon rivalry

Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jess and Kat rivalry

The last time the two British heptathletes competed, Ennis-Hill was on the way to Olympic gold and Johnson-Thompson was just a promising teenager. But a lot has happened in the following three years
Jeremy Corbyn: Joining a shrewd operator desperate for power as he visits the North East

Jeremy Corbyn interview: A shrewd operator desperate for power

His radical anti-austerity agenda has caught the imagination of the left and politically disaffected and set a staid Labour leadership election alight
Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief: Defender of ancient city's past was killed for protecting its future

Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief

Robert Fisk on the defender of the ancient city's past who was killed for protecting its future