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