Star power

Irish Examiner - Racing - - CHELTENHAM PREVIEW 2017 - Gra­ham Clark

Men­tion the name Kauto Star to rac­ing fans of any gen­er­a­tion and it might lead to an in­trigu­ing de­bate over a glass or two as to just which of his 16 Grade One vic­to­ries was his finest mo­ment.

For some it will be his fifth vic­tory in the King Ge­orge VI Chase at the age of 11, or his fourth Bet­fair Chase a few months ear­lier, while for oth­ers it will be that scin­til­lat­ing first Tin­gle Creek suc­cess in 2005 that con­firmed his star po­ten­tial.

But while each those tri­umphs are sig­nif­i­cant, there is ev­ery chance the most re­peated an­swer will be his in­au­gu­ral Gold Cup tri­umph, which on March 16 will be ex­actly 10 years ago.

Although that suc­cess con­firmed his place at the top ta­ble, it was some­thing that on his ar­rival from France was far from be­ing at the fore­front of the mind of trainer Paul Ni­cholls.

He said: “We hoped when we bought him he would be very good, but we bought him orig­i­nally to be an Arkle horse and to be a two-mile chaser. He may well have been that had he not got hurt at Ex­eter. He had that speed and he stayed and there are not many that can do that.

“He was a big, strong, good­look­ing horse. He wasn’t the eas­i­est to ride, but he was class. We gave him plenty of time as we didn’t run him un­til the De­cem­ber in his first sea­son with us.

“I was re­ally ex­cited about run­ning him and I re­mem­ber say­ing to Ruby (Walsh) ‘I’ve got one for you to ride at New­bury on Fri­day’.

“The smile on his face after he won that day con­firmed every­thing we thought.”

While the Clive Smithowned geld­ing lived up to the high ex­pec­ta­tions the Ditcheat han­dler had of him on his Bri­tish de­but at New­bury in 2004, the in­jury suf­fered after fin­ish­ing sec­ond in that three- run­ner affair at Ex­eter put paid to his chances of at­tempt­ing to win the race he was pur­chased for.

After fin­ish­ing sec­ond in the 2005 Hal­don Gold Cup things looked to be tak­ing shape as it pre­ceded vic­tory in that year’s Tin­gle Creek, but a fall in the 2006 Queen Mother Cham­pion Chase con­tin­ued his stop-start ca­reer to that date.

Mak­ing bold de­ci­sions is some­thing Ni­cholls has not been afraid to do through­out his ca­reer and the call to step Kauto Star up to two and a half miles in the 2006 Old Roan Chase at Ain­tree is one he will never for­get.

Ni­cholls said: “I wanted to see the per­for­mance he showed in the Old Roan. We al­ways thought he was very good, but it was his first run after fall­ing in the Cham­pion Chase.

“That Old Roan was the start of every­thing re­ally. We thought that was good, but when he won the Bet­fair Chase by 20 lengths and beat BeefOrSal­mon,Ruby­waslike ‘wow, this is amaz­ing, we have got to go for the King Ge­orge’.

“There was a bit of de­lib­er­a­tion, but we ended up run­ning two weeks later in the Tin­gle Creek, then he went back to three miles and won the King Ge­orge be­fore win­ning what was the Aon Chase at New­bury.”

With ev­ery box suc­cess­fully ticked lead­ing up to Na­tional Hunt rac­ing’s blue riband prize, Kauto Star was sent off the 5-4 favourite to con­tinue his dom­i­nance over the stay­ing divi­sion at Prest­bury Park.

De­spite mak­ing an er­ror at the last, Kauto Star was not to dis­ap­point his grow­ing army of sup­port­ers as he pow­ered up the hill to de­feat Ex­otic Dancer by two and a half lengths.

Ni­cholls added: “It was dead nerve-wrack­ing be­cause if you have got the favourite for the Gold Cup, you want them spot on for the day.

“We made sure did every­thing right at home and pro­duced him right on the day. There were all sorts of things you have to do right and we be­lieved in him.

“He al­ways gave you a few heart-stop­ping mo­ments, but if I re­mem­ber rightly he trav­elled­welland­jumped­well and­he­madeamis­take­com­ing over the last if I re­call be­cause he was just go­ing too well. It was never in any doubt re­ally, though, as he was just awe­somely pro­fes­sional.

“He prob­a­bly wasn’t a true stayer, but he won two Gold Cups and was just pure class and well rid­den by Ruby, who was an in­te­gral part of the whole thing.”

That in­au­gu­ral Gold Cup was to be the start of a roller­coaster ride in the race for Kauto Star, which saw him de­feated 12 months later be­fore re­gain­ing the ti­tle in 2009, along with fail­ing to com­plete in both the 2010 and 2012 re­newals, and fin­ish­ing third in 2011.

Although each of his Fes­ti­val tri­umphs, to­gether with his King Ge­orge and Bet­fair Chase suc­cesses, came at a time when Manor Farm Sta­bles was blessed with a host of top-class in­di­vid­u­als, for Ni­cholls there was only one horse that ruled roost.

Ni­cholls said: “His record says he is the best as he won over two, two and a half and three miles and won 16 Grade Ones. Big Buck’s wasn’t far be­hind him in terms of tal­ent, he just never jumped fences but with­out a doubt if he jumped them he would have won a Gold Cup.

“There was also Master Minded and at his dis­tance Den­man was just tough, he won a Gold Cup and two Hen­nessy Gold Cups..

“They were awe­some horses, but if you go on records alone, Kauto has achieved the most and I was very fond of him.

“I’ve been very lucky to have all those horses like that and if I never get an­other one

I can’t moan.”

Pic­ture:David Ma­her/Sports­file

A STAR IS BORN: Ruby Walsh shows his joy after steer­ing Kauto Star to vic­tory in the 2007 Cheltenham Gold Cup.

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