Comeback hero Kauto Star brings the house down in Betfair Chase
Tom O’Ryan reports on a race that will long be remembered
First published on November 20, 2011
Haydock erupted just after 3.12pm yesterday.
In scenes of jubilation and undiluted celebration among racegoers seldom witnessed outside of Cheltenham and Aintree, one of the greatest heavyweight chasers of this or any other generation was treated to the sort of emotional reception which stirs the heart, quickens the pulse and provides a sharp reminder of why battle-hardened stars of the jumping game command so much affection and admiration.
Kauto Star may be in the autumn of his career, but he shone like a primetime performer when winning his fourth Betfair Chase, comprehensively turning the tables on Long Run, who had beaten him into third in last season’s Cheltenham Gold Cup.
Cheered in the parade ring, cheered going down and cheered coming back, the ultra-popular 11-year-old jumped like the proverbial stag for Ruby Walsh.
It was stirring stuff. After leading throughout, he first shrugged off the attentions of Time For Rupert and then Diamond Harry before he hit overdrive in the home straight. Come the line, by which time the roar from the stands was deafening, he had put eight lengths between himself and Long Run, with Charlie Hall Chase winner Weird Al a further two lengths back in third.
Remarkably, it was his 15th Grade 1 victory and was achieved in front of a near 11,000-strong crowd – Haydock’s biggest attendance for a jumps meeting in five years.
“This is my proudest-ever moment,” declared Paul Nicholls, who appeared close to tears at times among the throng in the unsaddling enclosure when ‘Hip, hip, hooray’ rang out around the packed crowd.
“To do what he’s done at the age of 11 and beat a Gold Cup winner is phenomenal . . . awesome. . . unbelievable. Him and Ruby are made for each other. We left no stone unturned coming into this race. This was his Gold Cup.”
Nicholls had a message for those who had felt it was time for Kauto Star to be retired.
“I think they should eat their words and apologise. I took some flak about running him today, but I told everyone he’d never been better. “I think the world of this horse and I wouldn’t carry on with him if I didn’t think he was capable of doing himself justice.
“At home he was looking well and was going well and I came here sure he’d run well. I’ve always wanted to make the running with him and I felt this was the day to do it.”
Kauto Star, who has now won 22 races, was cut to 4-1 (from 16) for the King George VI Chase with sponsors William Hill, but Nicholls would not be drawn on whether that Kempton prize, which Kauto Star has already won a remarkable four times, would again figure on his Christmas agenda.
“I haven’t looked beyond today. Let’s get him home, make sure he’s sound in the morning and then sit down and talk about it.”
Owner Clive Smith is, however, already looking forward to his now familiar Kempton pilgrimage.
He said: “It’s only five weeks away and he’s obviously very well in himself, so hopefully we’ll be there.” Smith, also the owner of the Nicholls-trained Master Minded, winner of Ascot’s Amlin Chase, was overjoyed at Kauto Star’s return to former glories, especially after he had pulled up at Punchestown in May.
He added: “Today is brilliant and to think where we were at Punchestown. He really is an amazing horse.”
Walsh would agree with that. Having provided Kauto Star with a ride of pure poetry, the jockey was beaming from ear to ear on his way back to the winner’s circle as the cheers rang out.
“What a horse he is. He was enjoying himself up front. I could hear Sam [Waley-Cohen] on Long Run slapping and roaring behind him down the back straight, so I knew he must be in some trouble.
“I felt I’d gone a good gallop, but if my lad had stopped to a trot after the last, I would have puked! It’s wonderful to be here.”
As Kauto Star was led several times around the parade ring Nicholls looked on in pure admiration.
“It’s not relief that I feel,” he said, “It’s pride. I am proud of him.”
He wasn’t on his own.
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