Kauto Star's triumphant return to action at Down Royal yesterday was overshadowed by a serious injury to his rider Ruby Walsh two races later. After taking the JNwine.com Champion Chase, the first Grade One contest of the season, on the dual Gold Cup winner, and notching a double on his Paul Nicholls stablemate The Nightingale in the Grade Two supporting feature, Walsh broke his right tibia and fibulaas handicap chaser Corrick Bridge cannoned him into the ground.
The Irishman, who will undergo surgery this morning, is likely to be out of action for several months, and to miss Kauto Star's bid for a fifth successive King George V Chase at Kempton on Boxing Day.
On a brighter note, Kauto Star erased the memory of his terrible fall in the Gold Cup in March as he put in a foot-perfect round of jumping. But his four-length victory was more about substance than style. Clive Smith's 10-year-old, always close to the pace set by Killyglen, took the lead three from home, produced an extravagant leap at the last and drew away to score by four lengths. His class saw him home but it was a ground-out victory, with his nearest pursuers, the match-fit pair Sizing Europe and China Rock, keeping him honest all the way.
Whether or not Kauto Star's connections pursue their ambitious plan for the gelding to take in the Hennessy Gold Cup off top-weight later this month, the horse himself will say.
"We'll know about that fairly quickly," said Nicholls. "If he's a bit quiet over the next few days he'll be telling us he's had a hard race, and Newbury will be off the agenda."
A newer champion took an equally acclaimed bow at Doncaster. Paul Hanagan won his first jockeys' title by two wins after an enthralling battle with Richard Hughes.
Warrington-born Hanagan is the first northern-based rider to take the title since Kevin Darley 10 years ago, who in turn had followed Elijah Wheatley in 1905. He finished with a score of 191, having led the pack since he won the first race of the Flat season at the same South Yorkshire track in March. "I've had to keep my focus the whole way," he said. "The travelling has been hard, but it's been more mentally tiring than physically. But it's been worth it."