'I leave Arkle out of the equation. But this is marvellous'
Even a newcomer would instinctively know that he had seen something out of the ordinary at Kempton yesterday. If in any doubt, however, corroboration was available from Sir Peter O'Sullevan, who warmly applauded Kauto Star and Ruby Walsh into the winner's enclosure after his record-breaking fifth success in the William Hill King George VI Chase. O'Sullevan, who called home more than 30 winners of this race before his retirement, could recall few receptions like it on any racecourse.
"Quite remarkable," he said. "It was almost as though he had jumped in and joined them turning in. It's a great achievement, to keep him so sound year after year – and to sustain his enthusiasm. He must have a terrific team around him, at Paul Nicholls' stable, and horse and jockey seem to have a great understanding, as well. Remember, this race is won by very good horses. I've seen some real champions in it. I called Cottage Rake in 1948, and he went on to win three Gold Cups. So to win five is unbelievable."
At the same time, even Kauto Star's unprecedented longevity – he is the only horse to have won Grade One prizes in eight consecutive seasons – did not exalt him alongside the sport's perennial benchmark. "I do always leave Arkle out of the equation," O'Sullevan said. "He was a total freak. The rules of racing had to be adjusted to accommodate his talent. But this is certainly a marvellous horse."
As he spoke, Kauto Star was led away, cocking his ears to a fresh wave of cheering. The old man smiled. "He rather suspects he has won today," he said.
Another expert witness stood a few yards away, shaking his head in wonder. As senior handicapper of the British Horseracing Authority, Phil Smith has to make a formal measure of Kauto Star's every run, but for now shared a communal tide of gratification. "Even when Desert Orchid won his third King George, I thought I'd never see that done again in my lifetime," Smith said. "Five is just ridiculous – five, out of six tries. He's definitely a different horse this season. But he must now have 20-plus performances at 170 or higher [in the ratings]. You get horses that can do a one-off here, a one-off there. But to reach that level over and over again – as he does, even when gets beat – is just amazing."
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