Racing: Nicholls finds a cushy number for Kauto Star but doubts must remain over Gold Cup task

In this suspicious, worldly age, as many people will be seeking signs of weakness in Kauto Star at Newbury today as joy in his supremacy among British steeplechasers. But Paul Nicholls could scarcely have designed a less exacting rehearsal for the Cheltenham Festival than the Aon Chase. Indeed, Nicholls himself accounts for two of just five horses declared against Kauto Star, who should certainly not find his jumping placed under the sort of pressure that provoked those two infamous howlers at Kempton on Boxing Day.

By the same token, of course, it would be difficult to overlook any blemishes in his performance. There are valid reasons for doubting Kauto Star in the Totesport Cheltenham Gold Cup next month but none apply today, when he should outclass his rivals in an environment he will find ideal.

Nicholls felt that the horse still lacked experience at the beginning of the season and has certainly addressed that concern since. This is Kauto Star's fifth race of the campaign and, however easily he might win, he will necessarily be putting another three miles on his clock. He has been indiscriminately dishing it out over two miles and three, and certainly had quite a race at Kempton. It is slightly disconcerting, then, that he must still reserve his best performance for Cheltenham - when exposed to an exhausting test of jumping over an undulating track, against the best field he has met, and quite possibly on faster ground.

In the meantime, it must be hoped that today he can enjoy little more than a lap of honour. His transformation has invigorated the jumping scene in Britain and, by plunging those feet of clay into the flaccid Kempton fences, he has already set a compelling agenda in the Gold Cup.

Time to talk up Listener's chance

Appropriately enough, The Listener has never been a talking horse. His unglamorous relish for what his trainer, Robert Alner, this week described as "impossible" ground has seen to that. But it remains quite feasible, Kauto Star notwithstanding, that the grey will erect the most significant Gold Cup signpost of the afternoon in the Hennessy Gold Cup at Leopardstown.

Admittedly the race has cut up to ribbons, but the Beef Or Salmon camp is certainly eager to take on The Listener again after he impudently made all the running over the same course at Christmas. "The Listener doesn't frighten me one bit," Michael Hourigan declared yesterday.

If he can reiterate his class at the expense of Beef Or Salmon, a winner of nine Grade One prizes and nowhere more at home than Leopardstown, it will be time to take The Listener very seriously in the Gold Cup.

On manoeuvres for Champion Chase

There is more to training racehorses than the Sisyphean labour of galloping them up a hill every morning. Consider the options that faced two Somerset men, at opposite ends of their professional spectrum, before the Totepool Game Spirit Chase at Newbury today - potentially the defining moment of their respective seasons.

With a stable in transition, David Pipe has no more eligible championship candidate than Well Chief, who has rubbed shoulders in his time with Azertyuiop and Moscow Flyer - far better horses over two miles than the current mob. Pipe seems to have been sorely tempted by the audacity of running Well Chief first time out in the Queen Mother Champion Chase, but he has ultimately decided to squeeze this run into him first.

Ashley Brook, meanwhile, is the only horse that enables Kevin Bishop to measure himself against the heavyweights. He, too, had to be nursed back from injury, but his recuperation has been such that Bishop has been able to get a run into him over hurdles at Cheltenham. Off a very lenient rating, Ashley Brook destroyed his field, in the process reminding everyone that he beat War Of Attrition when they met as novices at Aintree.

Voy Por Ustedes, the Champion Chase favourite, could easily be beaten by either of these horses on deep ground today - not least as he must give them both 10lb. But the true fascination will rest in the difference in all three, should they meet again as scheduled on 14 March, because both Pipe and Bishop are flirting with the risks inherent in a generous comeback effort.

Pipe will surely ask Timmy Murphy to be indulgent to Well Chief, who cannot afford an effort that might send him into reverse. And after such a long period of inertia, Ashley Brook is being asked to race for the second time in a fortnight - barely four weeks before his big target.

Quatre Heures to settle family dispute

With so many horses at Newbury being trained and ridden with the Festival in mind, punters will find a refreshing lack of complication to the £150,000 Totesport Gold Trophy. For some runners, indeed, this prize will itself have been the target for several months.

Acambo sustained his progress when a decisive winner at Ascot in December, but a 10lb higher rating elevates him to top weight on much heavier ground here. There is a formidable Irish challenge, the Mullins clan alone sending four runners across - two of which comprise the shortlist. Pedrobob is definitely better than he looked in his first visit to these shores, at Cheltenham in November, but preference is for Quatre Heures. A Grade One winner as a novice, he was running for the first time since the summer when ninth in a similar stampede at Leopardstown last month.

But the best bet is at Warwick, where Little Rocker (2.55) stands out from a drab field, having pulled a long way clear of the rest in pursuit of two useful novices at Hereford last time.

Cat lies in wait for Invasor

This is going to be a vintage year on the Flat if its first big showdown is anything to go by. Last weekend Invasor, freshly garlanded in the International Classification as the best horse in the world in 2006, produced another stunning performance in his comeback run in Florida. The Breeders' Cup Classic winner was nearly brought to his knees when clipping a rival's heels in the Gulfstream Park stretch, but his young rider, Fernando Jara, coolly regrouped and they cruised through a gap on the rail for another easy success.

The Uruguayan monster's record now stands at 10 wins from 11 starts - and in the Dubai World Cup next month he will seek to avenge that one blemish when he meets Godolphin's unbeaten speedball, Discreet Cat. It is a prospect to thaw the bleakest midwinter blues.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
Bourgogne wine maker Laboure-Roi vice president Thibault Garin (L) offers the company's 2013 Beaujolais Nouveau wine to the guest in the wine spa at the Hakone Yunessun spa resort facilities in Hakone town, Kanagawa prefecture, some 100-kilometre west of Tokyo
i100
Voices
Oscar Pistorius is led out of court in Pretoria. Pistorius received a five-year prison sentence for culpable homicide by judge Thokozile Masipais for the killing of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp
voicesThokozile Masipa simply had no choice but to jail the athlete
Arts and Entertainment
James Blunt's debut album Back to Bedlam shot him to fame in 2004
music

Singer says the track was 'force-fed down people's throats'

News
i100
Life and Style
The Tinder app has around 10 million users worldwide

techThe original free dating app will remain the same, developers say

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

IT Project Manager

Competitive: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Chelmsford a...

Business Intelligence Specialist - work from home

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and growing IT Consultancy fir...

Business Intelligence Specialist - work from home

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and growing IT Consultancy fir...

IT Manager

£40000 - £45000 per annum + pension, healthcare,25 days: Ashdown Group: An est...

Day In a Page

Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Let's talk about loss

We need to talk about loss

Secrecy and silence surround stillbirth
Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Women may be better suited to space travel than men are
Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

How to dress with authority

Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

Tim Minchin interview

For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album