If it was uncharacteristic of Paul Nicholls not to disclose Kauto Star's schooling fall until six days later, he has certainly been living up to his reputation since. The champion trainer has been releasing scrupulously detailed daily bulletins on the horse's recuperation, and yesterday went one step further by announcing his intention to gallop the horse in public on Friday.
Having originally proposed to give Kauto Star a make-or-break test at Ditcheat on Saturday, Nicholls has been emboldened to work him after racing at Wincanton the previous day. The change of plan compounds the impression the ageless champion is on course to recover from bruising in time to seek a third success in the Betfred Cheltenham Gold Cup exactly a week later.
"He had a racecourse gallop before he won the Betfair Chase, and I thought it a better idea to give him a spin on the grass away from home." Nicholls explained. "Everyone can make their own minds up as to how he looks and works."
Kauto Star, who will be ridden by Ruby Walsh, will work with Mon Parrain. If emerging unscathed, he will then be set one more vital test in another schooling session on Monday.
Nicholls reported in his Betfair blog that he had once again raised the tempo of the 12-year-old's work yesterday. Indeed, things sound so positive that he felt obliged to play down expectations: "I must stress it is one step at a time, and it is important people don't get carried away. But we are heading in the right direction quickly, it seems."
After continuing Kauto Star's regime of physiotherapy and another hour on the walker, Nicholls gave him his most searching workout since his notorious tumble 12 days ago. "We gave him two strong canters up the hill alongside Ulck Du Lin," he said. "Again, he came through it fine. What particularly pleased me was that, aside from looking great, he came back and had a good roll in his box, always a good sign with him. He looks happy in himself and Clifford [Baker, head lad] is smiling."
Perversely, tremors in the ante-post market yesterday contrived to suggest that there might be greater concern in the camp of Kauto Star's big rival, Long Run. Ladbrokes even suspended betting for a while, while Coral eased the defending champion to 7-4 from 6-4, trimming Kauto Star to 7-2 from 4-1. Robert Waley-Cohen, his owner, pronounced himself "mystified" and reported that Long Run had worked as normal in the morning.
David Stevens, spokesman for Coral, explained: "We eased Long Run because of the support for his rivals, namely Weird Al, Midnight Chase and Kauto Star, with the latter subject to his own more positive update. Connections have made it clear all is well with Long Run, but that hasn't prevented support drying up for last year's winner."
Unfortunately, there was a genuine setback for Grumeti, the JCB Triumph Hurdle favourite. But Alan King, his trainer, seems confident that he will make the Festival. "Grumeti spread his right fore shoe on Monday night," he explained. "He was lame and quite sore this morning. But the Triumph is still 10 days away. I would hope that he would be sound again in 48 hours and able to exercise again at the weekend."
Two of the best young chasers in Ireland will definitely be sitting out the Festival, and are instead likely to meet in a novice chase at Naas on Sunday. Both Bog Warrior and Flemenstar are thought to need soft ground and that seems a remote contingency next week. The latter was never going to travel, while trainer Tony Martin confirmed yesterday Bog Warrior would go to Naas.
Chris McGrath's Nap
Rigadin De Beauchene (3.30 Fontwell) Has really clicked on his last two starts and remains unexposed at this kind of distance.
Sinfonico (6.0 Kempton) Shaped well tried in an eyeshield on return from a break last week.
One to watch
Nataani (Jo Davis) is lightly raced over fences and went through the race like a well-treated horse at Newbury on Friday.
Where the money's going
Master Of Arts is 5-1 from 10-1 with the sponsors for the Paddy Power Imperial Cup at Sandown on Saturday, and 10-1 from 16-1 for the Vincent O'Brien County Hurdle at Cheltenham next week.
Cheltenham countdown: 6 days to go
My top fancy for the Festival
George Primarolo, PR director of the Gold Cup sponsors Betfred
Rock On Ruby in the Champion Hurdle Though Hurricane Fly will be tough to beat, he's by no means bomb-proof – and Rock On Ruby's Gerry Feilden win is one of the best bits of handicap form all season. He's worth an each-way bet.