The old king shuffles off at last, leaving his successors still struggling for supremacy. Kicking King, the winner of the 2005 Cheltenham Gold Cup, has been retired after an honourable 28-race career that brought 12 victories and over £800,000 in prize-money. Meanwhile, the three other Blue Riband winners of the post-Best Mate era, War Of Attrition, Kauto Star and Denman, battle on towards the 2009 renewal.
It is the aftermath of the tendon injury which had kept Kicking King off the racecourse for 759 days which has finally ended his career. The 10-year-old had been nursed back into action by Tom Taaffe and hopes were high that he had retained his ability. However in four subsequent starts the dual King George VI Chase winner failed to show his old sparkle and so bows out.
"It's great he's retired in one piece," Taaffe said, "and that he's going to enjoy some ridden show-classes next summer. The Gold Cup is obviously the highlight, but he's given us some great moments along the way. He was second in the Supreme Novices' and the Arkle, and then he matured to go on to win the King George, Gold Cup, then come back and win the King George again before things went wrong."
Conor Clarkson, Kicking King's owner, added: "We had decided he wasn't as good as he had been, but he was still exceptionally brave and the third from his last race, Watson Lake, was beaten a distance but came out and won a Grade Three, so he was still extremely gifted. He just wasn't up to competing in Grade Ones anymore."
An achievement of an entirely different nature but still an essential part of the same National Hunt spirit was realised at Wincanton yesterday when a local dairy farmer, Anthony Knott, completed a 28-year ambition in riding his first winner. The 44-year-old, from Sturminster Newton, Dorset, stood up in the irons and starting waving at the crowd well before the finish as his dream became reality.
His mount, Wise Men Say, a 7-1 chance, had taken command over the final flight and had no trouble easing to victory in the Racing Post Hands And Heels Novices' Handicap Hurdle.
Having started out on the point-to-point circuit as a teenager, Knott then rode under Rules without success until four years ago. However, he plotted a return to the saddle, and purchased the Colin Tizzard-trained Wise Men Say only three weeks ago. "This is my first ride back and I bought this horse for my comeback," he said.
"When I rode a few years ago I was never fit, but I have changed my training this time and it has paid off. It is like a dream to have a winner, and I thought I'd give the crowd a salute on the way past."
Tizzard's son, Knott's weighing-room colleague, Joe, added: "He's always up at 3.30am to milk his 300 cows and then comes to our place at 9am to ride his horse out. He loves it."
The stewards took the gloss off the success by issuing Knott with a seven-day suspension for using his whip in a race in which the stick should be used only for guidance, but the ban is unlikely to hinder the rider, who added: "I might let someone else ride him from now on."
At the BHA's headquarters in London the disciplinary panel were also busy, issuing a 15-day riding ban to the Flat season's joint top apprentice, David Probert. Careless riding at Doncaster this month had triggered the hearing as Probert had already picked up bans totalling 25 days within the previous 12 months.
Robert Winston also received a 15-day ban for misuse of the whip, in failing to give his mount sufficient time to respond in a race at Kempton.