Super Kauto Star lands fifth King George


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The Independent Online

Kauto Star sent Kempton Park racegoers into a state of mass hysteria and consolidated his position as the most acclaimed National Hunt horse since Arkle with an unprecedented fifth victory in the William Hill King George VI Chase.

Many clutched the free banners inscribed 'Go Go Long Run' in support of the reigning champion, but they seemed outnumbered by others with 'Come On Kauto' and the green and yellow scarves which have multiplied since the veteran began his almost unimaginable comeback.

Seemingly on a downward spiral when trounced by Long Run in the last King George and at his nadir when pulled up at Punchestown in May, Kauto Star (3-1) exacted a revenge as stylish as it was popular, jumping perhaps as well as he has ever done.

A length and a quarter divided Ruby Walsh from Sam Waley-Cohen and even-money favourite Long Run by the post - a much shorter margin than when Kauto Star had dramatically returned to the fore at Haydock last month.

But it was another stinging riposte from Paul Nicholls' gelding, who appears to be thriving in his relative underdog status on the verge of his 12th birthday.

Champions will be made year after year in racing; that much is certain. But with a Flat horse to awaken the senses in Frankel and Big Buck's galloping inexorably towards the greatest hurdling winning streak in history, there is a genuine feeling of a golden age.

As Kauto Star passed Desert Orchid's mark of four wins in the Boxing Day extravaganza, he must now rank only short of the essentially untouchable Arkle.

"The weak don't last - the tough do," said Walsh after a deafening welcome back to the winner's enclosure.

"You can say what you want about the best steeplechasers of all time, but he's outlasted them all.

"He's gone on as long as Desert Orchid. Arkle didn't last long, neither did Mill House, and that's what makes him brilliant."

Walsh had been very positive throughout the three miles, not being afraid to sit close to the confirmed leaders Golan Way and Nacarat and found himself progressing so well he was in front for most of the final circuit.

Kauto Star devoured the final few fences, looking the likely winner from some way out, and although Long Run finished determinedly, the damage had been done.

Walsh said: "We had to ride him positively. Paul and I know he goes best left-handed and you've got to give him plenty of space

"I thought Long Run would be the one to beat, and that's not just waffle, but he looked a million dollars and he felt great.

"This is a fairytale. He's a wonderful horse and it's a credit to the people who work with him every day.

"He's beaten a six-year-old (Long Run) and he's 12 next week. To keep a horse going as long as that is amazing."

Nicholls, winning the race for the seventh time himself, had felt affronted by those who had called for Kauto Star's retirement after the Punchestown run.

He said: "He just wasn't right last year and I don't know why - maybe it took him a long time to recover after falling in the previous Gold Cup.

"A lot of horses do run flat at the end of a season and I said to Clive (Smith, owner) that unless everything was right I would retire him, but he was just so well in the autumn that I told him we had to keep going.

"I promise you that the slightest sign he is losing his enthusiasm and we will call it a day.

"I believed today was possible. He might be 11 but he has been acting like an eight-year-old at home and when he's right, he's as good as ever.

"To come back here six times is just unbelievable. I'll never have another like him."

Kauto Star is now 4-1 behind 5-2 favourite Long Run with the sponsors in the Betfred Cheltenham Gold Cup and Nicholls said: "He has won two Grade Ones this season and if I can get him into this shape at Cheltenham, he'll run really well."

Smith, whose other horse Master Minded sustained a nasty tendon injury in the race, said: "I knew this was the biggest day of my racing life - 24 years or so.

"It's a great thrill - to beat a Gold Cup winner in that way is just fantastic. I'm so proud - he has got the heart of a lion."