Nicholls may remain upbeat but Kauto's star is beginning to fade

To many, his performance on Saturday had a poignant, unmistakable quality of abdication. Yesterday, however, connections of Kauto Star were clinging stubbornly to the sceptre, adamant that he could yet restore his dominion at Cheltenham in March.

It is difficult to review events at Kempton without suggesting a lack of deference for either the winner, or the beaten favourite. Long Run, after all, has now confirmed himself a legitimate champion in his own right. But it is not just past glories that keep Kauto Star at the top of the agenda today. There is also the inescapable fact that many of his admirers will feel something between unease and alarm on learning that his owner, Clive Smith, and trainer, Paul Nicholls, are determined to persevere with him.

Seeking an unprecedented fifth success in the William Hill King George VI Chase, Kauto Star finished 19 lengths third to Long Run, looking rather laboured throughout and lucky to get away with a shuddering blunder at the second last.

Nicholls' first instinct was that the horse, contrary to the impression the trainer, had formed at home, was now past his prime. But yesterday Nicholls revealed that Kauto Star had bled from the nostrils on his return to Somerset. The likelihood is that he burst a blood vessel during the race.

He has never done so before, but in itself this would by no means imply increasing infirmity at the age of 11. On the contrary, it gives him obvious grounds for exoneration. Nicholls speculates that it may have happened after the mistake, "which meant he had to dig deep to get home". In his Betfair blog Nicholls was remarkably upbeat as he announced that Kauto Star would be trained for a fifth appearance in the Totesport Cheltenham Gold Cup.

"There is no talk of retirement here," he said. "I have just spoken to Clive. We agreed that yesterday now gives us a bit of challenge with the horse. Hopefully we and, most importantly, the horse will rise to it. He will be prepared for a tilt at a third Gold Cup victory in March – different ground, different track, different day – and we would like to aim him for a third victory at Down Royal in the autumn, too. As long as he is enjoying his racing and running well, then he will continue. He is 11, not 13.

"Yesterday was undoubtedly a big disappointment. He was never travelling or jumping with any real fluency, but it wasn't as if he ran a poor race. Without his blunder at the second last, he probably would have been a fair second to a very good horse. But that clearly wasn't his best form. I think he was A1 going into the race, so there are no excuses on that score. So it is up to me and my team here at Ditcheat to get him right for Cheltenham. And we will relish the challenge."

The first thing to say is that Nicholls will never adore another horse the way he does this one. He would not risk even one hair in Kauto Star's tail if he sensed an unconscionable risk to his welfare. He is palpably aware, moreover, that Kauto Star has become very precious to many others, too. Hence his astonishing patience with what must have seemed an interminable series of interviews immediately after the race. Make no mistake, he was heartbroken, but he did not betray the faintest hint of self-pity or withdrawal.

His stable is not matching its usual, prolific form just now and it may yet prove that Kauto Star can retrieve his peak. Many would, none the less, consider it reckless to treat this performance in isolation. The moment he came off the bridle, as far as four fences from home, positive interpretations of his two previous starts suddenly acquired a fanciful air. Yes, he had produced an efficient display on his return at Down Royal in November, but the bare facts are that he had to be ridden out pretty firmly to beat an unproven stayer by four lengths. And anyone who briefly feared that he would never get back to his feet, after that ghastly fall in the Cheltenham Gold Cup, will now be reviewing his exhibition that day as unnervingly similar to Saturday's.

Nobody would presume to tell Nicholls and Smith what is in the best interests of Kauto Star, but for many the stakes are now becoming uncomfortably high. The bottom line is that the horse was already two years into his racing career when Long Run was foaled. No judgement will be more clinically detached than that of the bookmakers, and Kauto Star is now out to 12-1 for the Gold Cup with William Hill, who make Imperial Commander 7-2 favourite to retain the trophy, with Long Run 7-1. Whether the latter will ever prove as effective round Cheltenham remains to be seen. He made a huge impression on his first start in Britain last season, over the King George course and distance, but has looked somewhat less convincing on two visits to Cheltenham since.

It may prove that the sweat and toil of his connections – whose patrician aura should not deceive anyone – have yielded sufficient dividends in his jumping to make Cheltenham less of an issue. That is for his next start. For now it is proper simply to salute the Corinthian throwback who rides him, Sam Waley-Cohen, and the trainer who also saddled Riverside Theatre to finish second, as well as four other winners on the card.

The King George had been an incongruous omission on Nicky Henderson's CV, which is one of the most distinguished in jump racing history. He has, moreover, suddenly revived the possibility of a challenge for the trainers' championship, having had 20 winners from his last 47 runners. Nicholls does retain a lead of some £250,000, but Seven Barrows is the most dependably fertile of stables at the Festival in March. And Henderson's other winners included Binocular, who bounced back to form in the second big race rescheduled from Boxing Day, and is now back down to 5-2 favourite with the sponsors to defend the Stan James Champion Hurdle.

At least one champion, then, demonstrably remains in his pomp. How many really believe, hand on heart, that the same might still be true of Kauto Star?

Turf Account

Chris McGrath's Nap

Cosavita (4.10 Plumpton) Useful in her youth in France and gave a sufficient glimpse of renewal at Ffos Las last time – creeping on to the heels of the placed horses having been set far more to do – to warrant a chance off her much reduced mark in this very poor contest.

Next Best

Kasimali (3.10 Plumpton) An Irish import who found two miles inadequate on his debut for his new trainer at Lingfield this month. He did not show much but that may have teed him up for this more suitable test in undemanding company.

One to watch

China Gold (Alan King) may yet reward connections' patience after returning from a long absence at Doncaster last week, just too keen and fresh to last home after challenging smoothly.

Where the money's going

Get Me Out Of Here is 12-1 from 14s with Hill's to repeat last year's win in Newbury's Totesport Gold Trophy next month.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Billie Piper as Brona in Penny Dreadful
tvReview: It’s business as usual in Victorian London. Let’s hope that changes as we get further into the new series spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Lucas, I SCREAM DADDIO, Installation View, British Pavilion 2015
artWhy Sarah Lucas is the perfect choice to represent British art at the Venice Biennale
Arts and Entertainment
No Offence
tvReview: No Offence has characters who are larger than life and yet somehow completely true to life at the same time spoiler alert
Chuck Norris pictured in 1996
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

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

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Dublin

£13676.46 - £16411.61 per annum + OTE: SThree: SThree Trainee Recruitment Cons...

Ashdown Group: Marketing or Business Graduate Opportunity - Norwich - £22,000

£18000 - £22000 per annum + training: Ashdown Group: Business and Marketing Gr...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Are you great at building rela...

Ashdown Group: Database Analyst - Birmingham - £22,000 plus benefits

£20000 - £22000 per annum + excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Application Sup...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

Flesh in Venice

Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
11 best anti-ageing day creams

11 best anti-ageing day creams

Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

Juventus vs Real Madrid

Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power