Kauto Star seals place in chasing firmament

Nicholls' veteran regains King George VI crown from Long Run with record fifth win

You knew what to expect from the din even when Kauto Star passed the winning post with a circuit still to go, a nose in front of Nacarat – the grey whose share of the lead, through the first lap, had almost seemed suggestive of some spectral escort from Desert Orchid. And now the ghost of Christmas past has at last been exorcised, his four wins in steeplechasing's midwinter championship surpassed in unforgettable fashion by the evergreen Kauto Star.

A giddy sense of privilege coursed through the packed stands, like a swig from the hip flask on a day of melancholy solstice grey. As more than 20,000 exulted in the ageless veteran's return, many wearing scarves in his owner Clive Smith's colours, they must have thought of querulous millions trapped in stale sitting rooms around the country. Times may be hard, but the year that gave the Turf a great Flat champion in Frankel now draws to a close with one of the most accomplished steeplechasers of all time.

A fifth William Hill King George VI Chase confirms the place of Kauto Star in the sport's pantheon, if not as its greatest champion, then certainly its most durable. In fact, on the cusp of his 12th birthday, he looked as vibrant and indomitable as ever. Though Long Run rallied bravely, Kauto Star never looked like yielding once Ruby Walsh had pressed for home a mile out.

The odds against such epoch-making longevity could be measured by twin contrasts. First there was the poignant sight of Master Minded, representing the same owner and trainer as the winner, being led sore-footed from the track by Daryl Jacob. He had been pulled up with a career-threatening injury. Walsh, who had been sharing his joy with the crowd, spotted Jacob and they exchanged salutes. Here, in identical raiment, were two men measuring the narrow margin between those twin impostors, triumph and disaster – and the precarious path by which Kauto Star must have picked his way towards this unprecedented summit.

Then there was the memory of the way Long Run, that impudent young pretender, had appeared to usurp his dominion here last season. A distant third that day, Kauto Star had seemed lethargic, palpably on the wane. With one of four defeats in five starts, it seemed increasingly legitimate to wonder whether too much was now at stake to justify perseverance. But Paul Nicholls was indignant. The champion trainer had made his own professional breakthrough in tandem with a horse he will always adore beyond all others, and the idea that anyone might have a superior insight into the proper time to retire Kauto Star he considered not just impertinent, but downright offensive.

He had already received all due apologies, however, when Kauto Star rolled back the years at Haydock last month. He forced a ring-rusty Long Run into errors that day, but even Walsh suspected that the tables would be turned this time. "We were ready at Haydock, and caught him on the hop," he admitted afterwards. "I thought he would be hard to beat today. But I said to Paddy Brennan [Nacarat's rider] down at the start: 'I don't know what's going to happen here, but I do know that this feels a million dollars.'"

And where his every step had seemed laced with valediction, last season, yesterday Kauto Star jumped and travelled like a champion in his pomp. Turning in, it seemed obvious he would not be reeled in. Having flattered briefly three out, Somersby was dropping away; Captain Chris, in contrast, was regrouping far too cumbersomely after getting outpaced. Instead it was Long Run, who had seemed to reiterate the new pecking order in the Cheltenham Gold Cup in March, who contrived the only meaningful pursuit in the straight. Already off the bridle four out, he responded pluckily to Sam Waley-Cohen and reduced the gap to just over a length at the line – and it might have been less still, had he been more fluent over the last. It was fully 17 lengths back to Captain Chris, who just held Somersby for third.

Nicky Henderson, Long Run's trainer, was quick to seek out Nicholls and offer his congratulations. In the pandemonium, Nicholls barely seemed to register his friend and rival, but both will already know – to the sport's immense advantage – that the story is not yet fully told.

"If he gets to Cheltenham in that form, he'll be the one to beat," Nicholls declared. But Betfred, the Gold Cup sponsors, took a different view in retaining Long Run as 5-2 favourite, albeit they cut Kauto Star to 4-1 from 10-1. Grands Crus, who had confirmed himself a rising force earlier on the card, is third favourite at 10-1, though he may be kept to novice company at the Festival.

"I don't know why, but Kauto wasn't quite right last year," Nicholls said. "I knew we had him in serious order today. It's just unbelievable – he's awesome. I said to Clive that unless everything was right I would retire him, but he was just so well that I told him we had to keep going. I promise you that the slightest sign he is losing his enthusiasm and we will call it a day. Although he is 11, he has been acting like an eight-year-old at home. I will never have another like him."

"The score is two-all, and the decider will be played out in the Cotswolds," Henderson said. "We have improved seven lengths from Haydock, and need to find another one or two, and have three months to do that. Sam said that if he had really winged the last, it could have been close. The hill is going to help us at Cheltenham."

Walsh paid incredulous tribute to Nicholls and his team at Ditcheat. "He's lasted so long, that's what sets him apart," he said. "Arkle didn't last the same, nor did Mill House, nor did any of those horses. You can say what you want about the best steeplechasers of all time, but he has outlasted them all. It's a fairy tale."

Christmas star: Kauto's King George record

26.12.11: The winner by a length and a quarter from Long Run yesterday.

15.1.11 (race postponed from Boxing Day) Third, beaten 19 lengths by Long Run.

26.12.09: Winner by 36 lengths from Madison Du Berlais.

26.12.08 Winner by eight lengths from Albertas Run.

26.12.07: Winner by 11 lengths from Our Vic.

26.12.06: Winner by eight lengths from Exotic Dancer.

Other notable wins:

Cheltenham Gold Cup 2007, 2009

Betfair Chase, Haydock 2006, 2007, 2009, 2011

Tingle Creek Chase, Sandown 2005, 2006

 

Foaled March 19, 2000, in France.

40 starts, 23 wins, 3 falls

Career earnings £2,375,000

Long Run, the only horse to beat him in the King George, was not even born when Kauto Star won his first race in Britain at Newbury in 2004.

Turf account

Chris McGrath's Nap: Hollow Tree (2.45 Chepstow)

The manner of his sole reverse since switching to hurdles, rallying well after being outpaced, suggests that the test of stamina today will play to his strengths.

 

Next best: Galaxy Rock (2.10 Chepstow)

One of few in the field still on the upgrade, having taken form to a new level last time, and likely to be suited by extreme demands of this race.

 

One to watch: Vulcanite (Charlie Longsdon) made a promising start to his hurdling career at Kempton yesterday, jumping and travelling well, and seen off only by a useful one in the straight.

 

Where The Money's Going: Giles Cross is 6-1 from 7-1 with the sponsors for the Coral Welsh National at Chepstow today.

News
peoplePair enliven the Emirates bore-draw
Arts and Entertainment
tvPoldark episode 8, review
News
Britain's opposition Labour Party leader Ed Miliband (R) and Boris Johnson, mayor of London, talk on the Andrew Marr show in London April 26
General electionAndrew Marr forced to intervene as Boris and Miliband clash on TV
Arts and Entertainment
Ramsay Bolton in Game of Thrones
tvSeries 5, Episode 3 review
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistant - Accounts Payable - St. Albans

£26000 - £28000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistan...

Ashdown Group: Treasury Assistant - Accounts Assistant - London, Old Street

£24000 - £26000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Recruitment Genius: Installation and Service / Security Engineer

£22000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is part of a Group...

Recruitment Genius: Service Charge Accounts Assistant

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a a young, dynamic pers...

Day In a Page

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence