Record-breaker Kauto is star of wonder again
Four successive King George VI victories is more than even the great Desert Orchid could manage
Sunday 27 December 2009
Perhaps the only surprise here yesterday in the aftermath of Kauto Star's fabulous record fourth straight success in the King George VI Chase was the reaction of the bookmakers. The great horse was quoted as favourite for the major races he will run in for the rest of this season and into the next, but nothing else. Yet judging by the waves of adulation, affection and adoration that swept him past the post and into the winners' circle, he would be a shoo-in to open for England in Cape Town, score the winning goal in the FA Cup final then go on to be the next Prime Minister.
No horse in something as multifaceted as a three-mile steeplechase, can be considered invincible, but tell that to the 22,000 who gathered to witness a moment of history. And Kauto Star never looked as if he would or could dent their faith. It was his easiest triumph in the midwinter championship – he had left his rivals trailing before the home turn and came home in isolation – and it now seems apparent that, round here, he really is invincible and in retrospect, his 8-13 SP beat any bargain in the Oxford Street sales.
Kauto Star has removed Desert Orchid from the Boxing Day throne; although the great white Christmas icon did win four King Georges they came over a five-year span, and in the process, with yesterday's £114,000 William Hill-sponsored prize, Kauto Star has become the first jumper to take his racecourse earnings to more than £2 million. His stunning performance in coming home an untroubled 36 lengths clear of a high-class field is also certain to take him past Desert Orchid's place in the ratings as the best chaser of the modern era, and may even threaten Arkle's hitherto immortal status.
Dry statistics and comparisons are part of this sport's tapestry. But sometimes the action of the moment transcends the analysis. Kauto Star was majestic from the moment he walked into the parade ring, 16.3 hands and 530kg of equine athlete primed for the moment and even, you would almost say if you believed in anthropomorphism, looking forward to it. He had a nonchalant bring-it-on swagger in his bearing missing in his 12 rivals.
The contest, with Nacarat and Ollie Magern setting a strong gallop, was set up perfectly for Ruby Walsh and his mount, who was never out of cruise control as the pace found out lesser engines behind him. Once Nacarat was left as sole trailblazer on the second circuit, Walsh began to engage turbo boost – a particularly fine leap four fences from home gained lengths in the air and on the run round the final turn to the three obstacles in the straight, Kauto Star went past the grey in a few contemptuous, beautiful strides.
"He just never missed a beat," said Walsh, "It was the truest run of any of his King Georges. I had a lot of respect for Nacarat, he'd kept up that sort of gallop when he won the Racing Post Chase last year, but after four out I was back on the bridle. And when I had a look back after turning in I began to feel confident but there's still three fences in front of you and you can't be thinking about anything at that stage except trying to meet them somewhere near right. The way he came home was unreal. He was brilliant at the third-last, at the second-last and then steadied himself for the last. Just deadly."
Walsh's sheer delight was evident as he took the hero of the hour, still with a spring in his step, on a trot of honour past the stands, throwing anything he could take off – goggles, gloves – into the crowd. "It was a proper gallop the whole way," he added, "and when you see horses of the calibre of Deep Purple and Madison Du Berlais struggling after a circuit, you know you're in a proper race. It was just relentless but mine has won a Tingle Creek, he has the cruising speed that most three-mile chasers don't have."
Second place went to Madison Du Berlais, who won his battle with Barber's Shop by a length, with gallant Nacarat fourth. Imperial Commander, who had come within a whisker of beating Kauto Star at Haydock last month and started 13-2 second favourite, was never competitive.
Kauto Star, who carries the colours of Sunningdale-based Clive Smith, is a credit to his trainer Paul Nicholls and the team at Manor Farm in the Somerset village of Ditcheat, as Walsh readily acknowledged. "You keep thinking that one day he's not going to be so good, that he can't keep coming back," he said, "but today he turned up better than ever. He's unbelievably durable. They say good horses are sound horses but this is a luxury."
Nicholls has felt the pressure involved in presenting a champion and public favourite in top trim, especially after the horse's narrow squeak last time out, and watched the race on a small TV indoors away from wider scrutiny. "I knew he'd done nothing but bloom since Haydock," he said, "but I was nervous even so. But everything now about him is the utter professional. He's relaxed, he's grown up, he jumps superbly and this was his best performance yet. Never mind his going backwards, as some have suggested, I think he's going forwards."
Kauto Star's triumph once again sets up a Cheltenham Gold Cup showdown with his stablemate Denman, who produced his own tour de force in the Hennessy Gold Cup, but there is no doubt where Nicholls' loyalty lies. "Denman will have to improve," he said. "Kauto Star would have won a Hennessy off his mark, he's the best there'll ever be for me."
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