Racing: Taaffe has faith that King can extend reign

Forty years after he won the King George VI Chase, the mythology of Arkle grows ever more elaborate. Inadequately sustained by flickering black-and-white footage, the legend continues to find more tangible, modern dimensions and a new biography was published this year.

In the meantime Best Mate, the horse insolent enough to measure Arkle's mortality by himself winning three Cheltenham Gold Cups, has been fatally punished, dropping dead on the racecourse.

And now Tom Taaffe, whose father rode Arkle, is bringing back a champion of his own - Kicking King, favourite to win a second King George on Boxing Day - to keep the bonds of memory secure.

Taaffe has a photograph that proves he once sat upon Arkle, though he says he did not know then whether he was astride a horse or a cow. His own achievements as a jockey were relatively modest, but his assured handling of Kicking King has proudly restored the family name to the heart of Ireland's steeplechasing heritage. Last winter Kicking King won both the King George and Gold Cup in despotic fashion. As it happens, Best Mate missed both races, but suddenly Arkle seemed safer from that comparison.

Kicking King also won at Punchestown in April, but his fortunes since have been instructive in the foundations of any great jumping career. From Arkle to Best Mate - or Moscow Flyer, come to that - style and calibre of performance is always underpinned by unglamorous miracles of soundness and consistency. Kicking King has lost both his starts this season, but his trainer has been so calm and convincing in his mitigation that the horse is as short as 5-4 to beat his eight rivals at Sandown.

First time out, in a small field at Punchestown, he was beaten three lengths by War Of Attrition and only held on to second in a photo. Taaffe remained sanguine. His stable was making a subdued start overall, and Kicking King had shown undiminished flair in his jumping. Barry Geraghty, sensing that the horse was so fresh that he might give himself a harder race than warranted by his fitness, rode him conservatively. All in all, it was perfectly excusable and Kicking King was confidently expected to resume business as usual at Haydock last month.

And for a long time it looked as though he would impose himself on as strong a field as he has encountered, moving lusciously into contention with two to jump. All of a sudden, however, he began to labour, and Geraghty was not hard on him as Kingscliff galloped dourly away, pursued instead by Beef Or Salmon. Once again, Taaffe resisted alarm: Kicking King had twisted a front shoe, and was palpably sore minutes after the race.

"If you're in racing and think you're going to win every day, then you're in the wrong game," Taaffe said yesterday. "You certainly won't last long thinking that way. It's part and parcel of the job. Anyone who knows racing would recognise that.

"We all know that he has not performed to the level expected of him, but I'm happy that he has valid excuses. In fact, if anything I'd say I am surprised how well he has run, considering the things that weren't right."

This time last year, some questioned whether Kicking King would stretch his energy as far as three miles, even round a sharp track like Kempton. Ironically, the transfer to a much stiffer track in Sandown - the race's usual home is closed for redevelopment - has, in the meantime, come to seem likely to play to his strengths.

"Last year everyone had seen that he could go some over two and a half miles on a downhill track," Taaffe recalled. "But having seen the style in which he ran three and a quarter miles round Cheltenham - and style is the word - they know he doesn't mind where we take him. Last season I did think he still needed to strengthen up a bit behind the saddle, and he's done that, in fact he's a stronger horse all over."

Taaffe also hopes that Kicking King may be better equipped than some for the famous sequence of staccato fences in the back straight at Sandown. His shocking blunder at the final fence at Kempton last year is attributed to inattention, having been in splendid isolation for so long. All in all, Taaffe appears full of conviction. It is not uncommon for Gold Cup winners to regress from an exhausting peak, but Kicking King will only turn eight on New Year's Day. "It's the same as with a human athlete," Taaffe said. "It all comes down to how they cope with everything that comes with being a star, with the media, with all the various virals, with the competition. It's a funny world. But I am very happy with our horse."

Which is more than can be said of Nicky Henderson. Trabolgan had already been ruled out of the King George by leg trouble and yesterday his trainer extinguished any lingering hope that he might be back in the spring.

"It is precautionary more than anything," Henderson said. "Luckily he is a young horse with half his career still ahead of him."

Sandown to inspect

With temperatures due to fall to below zero on Christmas Day night, there will be a precautionary inspection for frost at Sandown Park at 7.30am on Boxing Day.

Market Rasen, one of seven other meetings in Britain on Boxing Day, will also hold an inspection.

* Monday's edition of The Independent will contain cards and selections for all the Boxing Day meetings.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Avatar grossed $2.8bn at the box office after its release in 2009
filmJames Cameron is excited
News
news

Lincoln MP Karl McCartney 'denied all knowledge' of the Twitter activity

Arts and Entertainment
Joel Edgerton, John Turturro and Christian Bale in Exodus: Gods and Kings
filmDirector said film would 'never have been financed' with ethnic minority actors in key roles
Arts and Entertainment
Stik on the crane as he completed the mural
art
Life and Style
View of champagne glasses at a beach bar set up along the Croisette during the 66th edition of the Cannes Film Festival in Cannes on May 17, 2013
food + drink(and for now, there's a clear winner)
News
The author PD James, who died on 27 November 2014
people

Detective novelist who wrote Death comes to Pemberley passed away peacefully at her home, aged 94

Arts and Entertainment
Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1
arts + ents
Life and Style
tech

Sites using the popular Gigya comment platform were attacked by the Syrian Electronic Army (SEA)

Extras
indybest
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
An unseen image of Kurt Cobain at home featured in the film 'Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck'
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

Argyll Scott International: Service Desk Analyst

£20000 - £22000 per annum: Argyll Scott International: Service Desk Analyst Re...

h2 Recruit Ltd: Business Development Executive - Software

£20000 - £25000 per annum + 55,000 OTE + benifits: h2 Recruit Ltd: Software Sa...

Argyll Scott International: 2x Service Desk Analyst

£20000 - £22000 per annum: Argyll Scott International: Service Desk Analyst Re...

Langley James : IT Project Manager; 6 month FTC; Brighton; £400p/d

£400 - £420 per day: Langley James : IT Project Manager; 6 month FTC; Brighton...

Day In a Page

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game
There's a Good Girl exhibition: How female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising

In pictures: There's a Good Girl exhibition

The new exhibition reveals how female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising
UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover - from advent calendars to doll's houses

UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover

It worked with cupcakes, doughnuts and macarons so no wonder someone decided to revamp the humble biscuit
Can SkySaga capture the Minecraft magic?

Can SkySaga capture the Minecraft magic?

It's no surprise that the building game born in Sweden in 2009 and now played by millions, has imitators keen to construct their own mega money-spinner
The King's School is way ahead of the pack when it comes to using the latest classroom technology

Staying connected: The King's School

The school in Cambridgeshire is ahead of the pack when it comes to using the latest classroom technology. Richard Garner discovers how teachers and pupils stay connected
Christmas 2014: 23 best women's perfumes

Festively fragrant: the best women's perfumes

Give a loved one a luxe fragrance this year or treat yourself to a sensual pick-me-up
Arsenal vs Borussia Dortmund: Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain celebrates century with trademark display of speed and intuition

Arsenal vs Borussia Dortmund

The Ox celebrates century with trademark display of speed and intuition
Billy Joe Saunders vs Chris Eubank Jnr: When two worlds collide

When two worlds collide

Traveller Billy Joe Saunders did not have a pampered public-school upbringing - unlike Saturday’s opponent Chris Eubank Jnr
Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Drifting and forgotten - turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Our partner charities help veterans on the brink – and get them back on their feet
Putin’s far-right ambition: Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU

Putin’s far-right ambition

Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU
Tove Jansson's Moominland: What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?

Escape to Moominland

What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?