Star turns down Newbury while Murtagh fires up old partnership

Two of the Turf's biggest names went back to basics yesterday. First connections of Kauto Star rejected a hazardous experiment in his historic bid for a fifth consecutive success in the William Hill King George VI Chase, deciding to keep him fresh for Kempton on Boxing Day rather than take in the Hennessy Gold Cup en route. And then Johnny Murtagh, who had announced his departure from Ballydoyle a week previously, cast that decision in a fresh light by accepting a contract to ride the 120 horses trained for the Aga Khan in Ireland.

As a result, Murtagh will renew the partnership that first introduced him to the riding elite. The Aga Khan's principal trainer in Ireland is John Oxx, to whom Murtagh served as stable jockey from 1992 to 2003. During that time, he rode 18 Group One winners in the famous green and red silks, notably Sinndar in the 2000 Derby and Arc. Nowadays the Aga Khan also has 30 horses with Michael Halford, with whom Murtagh also worked closely prior to his successful, three-year stint at Ballydoyle.

The revival of these old associations is said to have been merely opportunist, albeit you could hardly be surprised had Murtagh at least been given some tacit encouragement before quitting a position as coveted as the one at Ballydoyle. The Aga Khan has a parallel arrangement in France, with Christophe Lemaire, and his stud manager, Pat Downes, explained that no slight was intended on Oxx's stable jockey, Fran Berry.

"Johnny obviously became available, and we have always had a retained rider in France," Downes said. "His Highness and Johnny have had some very good days in the past. His Highness saw an opportunity to renew that partnership, and that has been sorted in the last 48 hours. Fran is a very good rider and has done great for us, but he doesn't yet have the international experience of Johnny, who is a world-class jockey."

That perception is clearly injurious to Berry's credentials for the vacancy at Ballydoyle, where the dilemma remains whether to promote Colm O'Donoghue, who himself lacks that breadth of seasoning but certainly warrants the chance, or to prise an established name from commitments elsewhere.

The decision regarding Kauto Star was presumably rather more straightforward. Engrossing though it would have been to see him contest his first handicap, while still in his prime, the stakes on Boxing Day are simply too momentous. Giving so much weight to top-class handicappers – he was set to concede 8lb to Denman, his next door neighbour and old rival, and 28lb to everything else – would unavoidably have exposed Kauto Star to a hard race at Newbury on Saturday week.

Paul Nicholls, his trainer, will instead saddle Denman in what will itself be an unprecedented quest for a third Hennessy. After telephoning Kauto Star's owner, Clive Smith, Nicholls revealed their decision in his Betfair column. "We have decided that the horse has two priorities, the King George and the Gold Cup, and we weren't going to jeopardise those by going to Newbury," he explained. "Make no mistake, he was a likely runner at one stage. Having always loved the race, Clive was very keen, and I wouldn't have stood in his way."

They had three reasons for viewing discretion as the better part of valour. Firstly, Kauto Star had returned from his recent comeback at Down Royal "a little bit quiet"; secondly, there was the obvious danger of "leaving the King George behind" at Newbury; and finally, there was the absence through injury of his regular rider, Ruby Walsh.

Kauto Star's rivals at Kempton are likely to include Imperial Commander, but Nicholls first hopes to give the Gold Cup winner another hostile reception when he reappears in the Betfair Chase at Haydock on Saturday. Last year, Kauto Star beat Imperial Commander in a photo for the same race and this time round Nicholls will take him on with What A Friend.

Turf account

Chris McGrath's Nap

Nicholas Pocock (12.20 Southwell)

Bred to stay but has been travelling strongly over a mile and could discover a new lease of life over this trip, especially on this gruelling surface. May have more ability than his rating allows.

* Next best

Club Tahiti (3.20 Southwell)

Has dropped down the weights and each of last three starts has offered more encouragement, not quite getting home over 10f on heavy ground last time. Unproven on this surface but looks the type to grind it out.

One to watch

For Non Stop (Nick Williams) is flourishing for his new trainer and pulled miles clear of the rest when bumping into a handicap "good thing" at Cheltenham on Sunday. Future chaser who looks sure to keep progressing.

Arts and Entertainment
Joe Cocker performing on the Stravinski hall stage during the Montreux Jazz Festival, in Montreux, Switzerland in 2002
musicHe 'turned my song into an anthem', says former Beatle
Clarke Carlisle
footballStoke City vs Chelsea match report
Arts and Entertainment
theatreThe US stars who've taken to UK panto, from Hasselhoff to Hall
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
Approaching sale shopping in a smart way means that you’ll get the most out of your money
life + styleSales shopping tips and tricks from the experts
newsIt was due to be auctioned off for charity
Coca-Cola has become one of the largest companies in the world to push staff towards switching off their voicemails, in a move intended to streamline operations and boost productivity
peopleCoca-Cola staff urged to switch it off to boost productivity
Sir David Attenborough
environment... as well as a plant and a spider
'That's the legal bit done. Now on to the ceremony!'
voicesThe fight for marriage equality isn't over yet, says Siobhan Fenton
Caption competition
Caption competition
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

Austen Lloyd: Regulatory / Compliance / Exeter

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: Exeter - An excellent opportunity for a Solici...

Ashdown Group: IT Support Technician - 12 Month Fixed Term - Shrewsbury

£17000 - £20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Helpdesk Support Technician - 12 ...

The Jenrick Group: Maintenance Planner

£28000 - £32000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: Maintenance...

The Jenrick Group: World Wide PLC Service Engineer

£30000 - £38000 per annum + pesion + holidays: The Jenrick Group: World Wide S...

Day In a Page

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'