A roll call of the early winners of the Hennessy Gold Cup reads like a Who’s Who of steeplechasing legends: Mandarin, Taxidermist, Stalbridge Colonist, Mill House and, of course, Arkle, who twice made light of 12st 7lb in the mid-Sixties.
The race regarded as an autumn Gold Cup resulted in the utter rout of the past winners of the Festival blue riband at Haydock on Saturday as Cue Card set the seal on his emergence at the top of the British staying division with an emphatic display of front-running jumping to win the Grade One Betfair Chase.
He has won 15 races and amassed total prize-money of more than three-quarters of a million pounds.
Over the years Tidal Bay has drawn many less than complimentary opinions concerning his level of commitment to his vocation, but in the autumn of his career, revitalised since joining Paul Nicholls, he can now demand comparison with some of the stable's best.
Cheltenham Gold Cup winner has taken up dressage
The glamour of a "plot" horse has so rubbed off on the Cheltenham Festival handicaps that trainers nowadays need all the artistry of old merely to guarantee a run. Of no fewer than 195 entries for the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys' Hurdle, for instance, even some rated within 5lb of the weights ceiling are not yet certain to make the final cut of 24 runners.
On the face of it, with the vast majority of Cheltenham horses now keeping their powder dry, the main focus either side of the Irish Sea today is on the John Smith’s Grand National.
Almost time, then, to pull up the drawbridge and count the ammunition. The Cheltenham Festival is now only three weeks away on Tuesday, and few trainers will want to leave the candidature of horses contingent on a hard race in the meantime. So while a handful will still be seeking late admission, some of the final trials of strength are staged on Saturday.
Nicholls' veteran lands Lexus as Flemenstar's stamina drains after promising challenge
Kauto Star and Silviniaco Conti shared the applause at Haydock yesterday, the former as he led the parade of runners before the Betfair Chase, the latter after he picked up the baton from his now-retired Paul Nicholls stablemate by winning the Grade One three-miler. And the old superstar should have thoroughly approved both the result and its execution as the young pretender Silviniaco Conti followed in his hoofprints in consigning Long Run to second spot with a virtually flawless round of jumping.
For Kauto Star to be retired yesterday, just 11 days after another paragon, should prompt due circumspection in assessing his own place in the Turf pantheon. Certainly, those who glibly saluted Frankel as "the greatest ever" on the Flat will surely feel abashed in according Kauto Star equivalent status in the history of steeplechasing, even with the customary rider "since Arkle". The sport incorrigibly anoints its latest champion as the best. In at least one respect, however, Kauto Star's career can be soberly acclaimed as an enduring benchmark – and "enduring" is very much the word.
Though some European raiders will show the beginnings of a winter coat, the return of the Breeders' Cup to Santa Anita this time entails a still more abrupt change of climate for those arriving from the East Coast of the United States. For while one planeload of New York horses did manage to hasten west today, even as Hurricane Sandy closed in, another seems likely to be grounded today. With bridges in their home city likely to be closed by the Port Authority, several leading fancies in the care of the record-breaking trainer Todd Pletcher are unlikely to make their scheduled departure.
Win, lose or draw, Albertas Run deserves top billing on the second day of the Aintree meeting. Having typically gone down with all guns blazing in his quest for a fourth Cheltenham Festival success last month, he might be pardoned for running a little flat in the John Smith's Melling Chase – but the fact is that he has managed first and second in the past two runnings, despite having a week less to soak up similarly hard races.
One of the year's most spirited sporting rivalries may be settled today, though neither participant has ever broken sweat against the other in spikes or with bat, club, racket or ball. The most strenuous activity for a racehorse owner may be signing a cheque or walking to the winner's podium and J P McManus and Michael O'Leary have done plenty of both.
When Kauto Star was preserved from further risk you could sense the sport’s sigh of relief
This year's meeting is dominated by short-priced established stars and precocious talent, writes our award-winning tipster Chris McGrath