Kauto Star defied his critics and rolled back the years on Saturday (19 November), securing an emotional victory in the Betfair Chase at Haydock.
It was a fourth win in the race for Paul Nicholls’s most famous stable star – and done in record time.
After finishing third in this year’s King George VI Chase and Cheltenham Gold Cup, and pulling up on his last trip out at Punchestown, there were calls for the 11-year-old to retire. But the dual Cheltenham Gold Cup hero proved nay-sayers wrong by winning his 15th Grade One chase.
“The response has been incredible,” ecstatic owner Clive Smith told H&H on Monday (21 November).
“Not only is he a very handsome horse, he’s athletic, enthusiastic and so full of life – it’s as if he’s always saying ‘look at me, come and give me a polo’. He very much is ‘King Kauto’. But he’s also an exceptional jumper – just look at how he cleared some of those fences. It was remarkable.
“It was a tremendous day. Winning a first Gold Cup was amazing but this was certainly up there with the best – it was absolutely fantastic. I was jumping up and down as he came up the home straight – I couldn’t quite believe it.”
Kauto Star made all the running under Ruby Walsh and jumped in style, out-performing the favourite – and current Gold Cup champion – six-year-old Long Run. He went on to win by eight lengths, with the Nicky Henderson-trained Long Run in second and Charlie Hall Chase winner Weird Al in third.
And the popular chaser entered the winners’ enclosure to defeaning applause and spontaneous “three cheers for Kauto”.
“I think everyone was overcome by the reception he got,” said Paul Nicholls. “I’ve never seen anything like that before. I don’t think we’ll see another like him in our lifetime. I won’t train one, that’s for sure. He’s the best of a generation.”
It was a fanastic day for Clive, whose Master Minded also won earlier in the afternoon in the Amlin 1965 Chase at Ascot under Daryl Jacob. And Clive reports the pair are both in fine form after their races.
“I went to see Kauto an hour after his race and you wouldn’t have thought he’d had a run – he was so relaxed just having a pick of grass,” said Clive.
“Paul said yesterday Kauto was just looking out of his box as normal. And Master Minded is thoroughly well too.”
There are now possible plans to send Kauto to Kempton on Boxing Day to attempt to win a fifth King George. But Clive told H&H they are not going to rush the decision.
“We will see, there are still five weeks to go,” he said. “We’ll see how he is in two weeks – he’s getting older and needs a little more time in between races. We only want him to run if he’s on top form and can run a good race. If he’s not ready we’ll give him a long rest before the Gold Cup in March.”