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Signs good for Kauto Star making Gold Cup

The morning after the day before is the telling time for any racehorse trainer, let alone one with a recuperating national hero under his care, and yesterday's brought only good news for Paul Nicholls as Kauto Star emerged from his stable unscathed after working round a circuit of Wincanton racecourse the previous evening.

The 12-year-old gelding, bruised and battered after a schooling fall 16 days ago, now appears back on track for a tilt at a third Cheltenham Gold Cup victory on Friday. "He's 100 per cent sound this morning," reported Nicholls yesterday, "not a bother on him. TheWincanton gallop was just what we wanted, and he was straight to his grub when he came back. The signs are all good."

Kauto Star, one of 19 Gold Cup entries remaining after the penultimate declaration stage yesterday, is generally 4-1 second favourite for the Festival's chasing showpiece. Tomorrow he will leave the ground for the first time since the accident that prompted fears that he would miss his decider with old rival Long Run, last year's winner. A final decision about Kauto Star's participation has yet to be made, but the omens for Clive Smith's colourbearer are positive. "It's been the toughest Cheltenham build-up we've ever had," said Nicholls. "We're going to run him only if he's in top shape and it looks like we're very, very nearly there."

How Kauto Star fares in tomorrow's practice jumping session could prompt the decision over whether star novice Grands Crus takes on his seniors in the Gold Cup or sticks among his peers in Wednesday's RSA Chase. "It seems Kauto will make it to the Gold Cup," said the grey's trainer David Pipe, "which is great for racing, but maybe not so good for us. We'll decide on Monday."

At Sandown, the handicap hurdler Paintball laid downhis credentials for a share ofthe Cheltenham action by splattering his rivals at 20-1 in the Imperial Cup. The Charlie Longsdon-trained five-year-old, showing the benefit of airway surgery since his previous outing, romped four-and-a-half lengths clear to take the £34,000 prize and will collect a £75,000 bonus from sponsors Paddy Power if he wins again this week.