That Paul Nicholls, the champion jumps trainer for the past six seasons, would reach the milestone of 2,000 winners this term was only a matter of when, not if. The moment came yesterday and the name in the record books will be that of Kauto Stone, who is, serendipitously, the younger sibling of the best horse Nicholls has ever trained, Kauto Star.
Kauto Stone's victory at Down Royal, on his first run since joining Nicholls' Somerset stable from his native France, would have been noteworthy as a stand-alone performance, even without its talismanic tag. But it was merely one highlight on an afternoon that his pragmatic trainer, first and foremost a businessman, will surely remember warmly, even if only as a day's work thoroughly well done.
Half of the 14 runners sent out yesterday from Manor Farm won at three different meetings, three were secondand one third. And the first of the seven to score might, nominally at least, be considered approval of Nicholls' careerso far. That'lldoboy.
Twenty years after starting out with eight horses under his care, Nicholls now has some 160 and has won nearlyevery major contest in the calendar. "It's great to get the 2,000 up," he said after watching Kauto Stone's success, "and it's all down to the fantastic team I have back home at Ditcheat. And landmarks are always something to aim for but the next target is the 2001st winner." That came when The Minack took the afternoon's feature chase at Wincanton, beating his stablemate Meanus Dandy for good measure.
Nicholls' quest for a seventh title is perceived as under threat from Nicky Henderson this season, given that his established celebrities, like Kauto Star and Denman, are past their best and that this season his unproven youth squad is his largest-ever.
But if Kauto Stone is an example, then the future is in safe hoofs. The neat, unflashy chestnut five-year-old is, as an individual, as unlike his older half-brother as can be. With his jumping slick, extravagant, cat-like and clever, as required, he had too much class and pace. "He was cantering from four out," reported rider Paul Carberry.
Nicholls' tally at his local track included another five-year-old, Silviniaco Conti, who jumped like an old hand to take the Grade 2 novices' chase at his leisure and one of the older brigade, Celestial Halo, who took the Elite Hurdle by a wide margin after the young Henderson hope Grandouet came down two out after being thoroughly half-lengthed by his more experienced rival.
The winner of the JNWine.com Champion Chase at Down Royal, Quito De La Roque, is now as short as 10-1 for the Cheltenham Gold Cup. The Colm Murphy-trained seven-year-old caught Sizing Europe in the last few strides of Northern Ireland's Grade 1 showpiece, largely thanks to rider Davy Russell's perseverance in the saddle.
Quito De La Roque, one of last season's best staying novices, seemed out of it as Sizing Europe and The Nightingale, the Nicholls contender, pulled clear. But as the leaders efforts in testing ground began to take their toll, he caught the exhausted two-mile champion – also runner-up last year, to Kauto Star – with a length to spare.
At Doncaster Zuider Zee romped home in the Betfred November Handicap to maintain John Gosden's excellent record on Town Moor. His son of Sakhee was never too far off the pace under Robert Havlin, moved through to challenge with three furlongs to run and saw off Willing Foe easily.
Though Paul Hanagan left the final fixture of the domestic Flat turf season at Doncaster with nothing to add to his tally of 165 winners he was able to celebrate the defence of his jockeys' championship early in the day, once Silvestre de Sousa, four behind him at start of play, failed on the first of his four rides. "It was a long haul," said Hanagan, "but I learned a lot from last year and I enjoyed it all a bit more this time."