Kauto Star may go for three more Gold runs
Nicholls outlines sparing but ambitious campaign plans as his ace leads a parade of the stable's Cheltenham heroes
Sunday 15 March 2009
The next date to ring in fluor-escent red in your diary is Saturday 7 November. That will be the next scheduled public sighting of Kauto Star, the horse who leapt the fence that divides the insular family of racing from the wider world with his record-breaking Cheltenham Gold Cup victory on Friday. The gelding, whose white-blazed face adorned the front pages of most newspapers yesterday, emerged from his stable in sparkling fettle in the morning, but he now will rest on his mighty laurels.
There had been talk of a trip to Punchestown next month but – after his Cheltenham defeat 12 months ago and another at Aintree – there will, with the nine-year-old's future career in mind, be no extra trip to the well this time round.
"We'll finish the season on a good note," said his trainer, Paul Nicholls, "and after all, if you win a Gold Cup, anything else is an anticlimax."
Kauto Star ran only four times this season and next term may be even more sparing. Once again Northern Irish racing fans will be the ones to get the first glimpse, in the JNwines.com Chase at Down Royal, near Belfast. After that it may be a tilt at a fourth King George VI Chase at Kempton on Boxing Day, and a third Gold Cup.
"If we look after him," added Nicholls, "and keep him right, and he stays injury-free, he could run in the next three Gold Cups. He could go on until he is 12. He's such a professional in his attitude. He came home last night perfectly relaxed and ate up as if he'd just done a routine day's work at home."
At Cheltenham, Kauto Star went where no horse has gone before, the 21st Gold Cup winner to try to regain, as opposed to retain, a Gold Cup crown, and the first to succeed. His success was the culmination of an unprecedented week, too, for both Nicholls and jockey Ruby Walsh who, with five and seven victories respectively, obliterated the training and riding records at the most competitive of fixtures.
Kauto Star must now be measured among the genuine greats, upsides the most recent exceptional staying chaser, Desert Orchid. All the "Dessie" hoo-ha sometimes obscured the fact that the grey was a truly talented athlete, among the top half-dozen on the all-time jumping list. Like Kauto Star, Desert Orchid was that paragon, a three-mile chaser with two-mile speed. But Kauto Star has the extra dimension of being able to produce his best form over Cheltenham's undulating, demanding three-and-a-quarter miles.
More than 1,000 fans turned out yesterday to cheer Kauto Star and his owner, Clive Smith, at the now- traditional day-after victory parade through the Somerset village of Ditcheat. The dual Gold Cup winner led his stablemates Denman, who chased him home 13 lengths adrift on Friday, and the fourth-placed Neptune Collonges, followed by the Champion Chase hero Master Minded, the World Hurdle winner Big Buck's and the Champion Hurdle runner-up Celestial Halo.
"Kauto has been on the news pages of all the papers," said Nicholls, "which is so good for our sport. It's been great today meeting all sorts of people from all walks of life and listening to just how much he means to them."
The object of such adulation is 5-2 favourite for a third Gold Cup, ahead of the vanquished king Denman, whose recovery from physical problems, including a heart murmur, has been well-documented. "Though he was second," said Nicholls, "he was a winner, in that he not only came back safe, but came back where he did. He won't run again this season either, and if we get them both to Cheltenham next year fit and well, it will be some race."
The four-day Festival is not all about the Gold Cup; feats and fairytales emerged all along the line, at all levels. There was Tony McCoy getting the indolent Wichita Lineman home in front in the William Hill Trophy, not merely the ride of the meeting but arguably the season. There was injury-dogged Well Chief's second place in the Champion Chase after an absence of 698 days, a sensational individual training performance by David Pipe.
There was the dumbfounded delight of one-horse owner Isobel Coltman after victory in the Pertemps Final with Kayf Aramis, a horse she bred herself from a mare she bought for £1,000 from a small ad in a magazine; and the sterling effort of 49-year-old amateur Valerie Jackson, who finished fifth in the Foxhunter a quarter of a century after she rode in the Grand National.
But the week will be remembered for a one-horse show. Kauto Star's solo tour de force up the Cheltenham hill after a flawless round of jumping was mesmerising in its quality of drawing the eye against the tornado of approval erupting from the grandstands. It was the perfect eye of the storm.
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