Cheltenham Festival blog: The stuff dreams are made of

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  • However carefully you write the script, it’s worth remembering horses can’t read.

    No one told Imperial Commander today wasn’t supposed to be about him.

    No one thought Kauto Star would hit the deck — I know he’s made the odd jumping mistake in the past, but he hasn’t fallen for exactly four years, when he crashed out in the Champion Chase as a novice.

    No one thought Nigel Twiston-Davies’ day could actually get better, but there’s no doubt it will beat his two National wins now, as his son Sam won the Foxhunter on a horse he trained in the very next race after the Gold Cup. And then to win the last, with a horse who was a maiden over fences… Weird. What a night they are going to have in the Hollow Bottom pub, Twiston-Davies’ local.

    No one thought Katie Walsh would ride a second winner of the meeting; it’s all very well beating a bunch of amateurs in the National Hunt Chase, but defeating the pros in the County Hurdle is quite another thing.

    No one thought Paul Nicholls would finish the week with all three of his best chasers — Master Minded, Kauto Star and Denman — beaten.

    I wonder what they will do with Kauto Star now. At 10, he’s not an old horse, but he’s had plenty of racing, nearly all of it at the most demanding level. He can’t improve, he can only go backwards as his younger, more lightly raced rivals (Imperial Commander has run 17 races, Kauto Star 34) accelerate.

    Paul Nicholls and Clive Smith won’t make a snap decision — and maybe I’m being melodramatic, as I adore the horse and hated seeing him fall — but I think, if he were mine, I’d put him away, and try to win a fifth King George with him next Christmas before retiring him.

    But I’m beginning to let my heart rule my head here. Ruby Walsh said after the race: “He’s alright, I’m alright, there will be another day. It’s disappointing, but it is not the end of the world.”

    I’d probably give Master Minded one more spin, either at Punchestown or Aintree, and if he doesn’t win that, retire him too. No one wants to see these brilliant chasers running for place money; it’s win or nothing. Clive Smith has had the most incredible run with the pair of them, and I’m sure he will make the right decision with each horse’s best interests at heart.

    Although perhaps one of them should make a guest appearance at the Blackmore and Sparkford Vale point-to-point in about four years time to give Megan Nicholls, Paul’s daughter, her first ride…

    Don’t miss Horse & Hound’s Cheltenham Festival report, packed with analysis of all the big races on the card, on sale Thursday 25 March.

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