With the clock ticking down ever so slowly to the Cheltenham festival one horse will, one more time, attempt to defy the old hand of time. For Kauto Star his time is now.
While Long Run will walk into horse racing’s theatre of dreams two weeks on Friday as the defending Gold Cup Champion, Kauto Star will be very much the peoples champion.
The road to public affection hasn’t always been a smooth one. Despite winning a Tingle Creek Chase over two miles before winning his first Gold Cup, Kauto had doubters aplenty.
Firstly people couldn’t believe that a horse that showed as much speed as Kauto did could possibly last the grueling 3m plus trip that Gold Cup contenders have to gallop through to obtain equine immortality.
The second reason was Kauto’s tendency to plough through the odd fence from time to time in his races. ‘Wait and see’, the critics barked, ‘He won’t get away with those mistakes around Cheltenham’ Oh how Kauto has proved them wrong.
Coming into this season Kauto had it all to prove once again. He signed off last season with a bitterly disappointing run at the Punchestown Festival which had all the critics and naysayers calling for the curtain to be brought down on his legendary career.
His trainer Paul Nicholls took him home, pondered and knew that the spark that was in Kauto Star was still flickering. His first run of the season, in the Betfair Chase, would be the acid test.
Ridden as ever by Ruby Walsh, Kauto Star put Long Run and his doubters in their place. Seizing the initiative halfway down the back straight, Kauto put Long Run to the sword with a remorseless round of fast and accurate jumping.
When he flashed by the winning post you were half shaking your head at what you had just witnessed and half stopping yourself from welling up in awe of what Kauto Star had just achieved.
Coming into the King George Kauto was again going to have to silence the doubters.
Many felt that Long Run would overturn the Betfair Chase form and deny Kauto a record breaking fifth King George. Once again Kauto would have the last laugh.
The race panned out exactly as it had in the Betfair. Kauto served it up to Long Run and the younger horse had no answer.
Halfway around the final turn there was a collective moment when everyone had a singular thought. ‘He is going to win this.’
When that thought turned to reality every person at Kempton wished him home with every breath. Kauto was not just Clive Smith’s horse but he was the public’s horse. He was our horse.
He duly beat Long Run for the second time in a row, which just leaves one last question to be answered. Can Kauto beat Long Run in the Gold Cup?
Strictly on form Long Run has improved with each run this season. His trial race was not the most impressive, but he did give 10lbs to a Hennessy winner in Burton Port and his trainer Nicky Henderson will have him 100% come Gold Cup day.
But even at 100% can Long Run stop Kauto Star?. It could be me, but if both horses arrive at Cheltenham 100% then you would have to go for Kauto.
To my mind Kauto is a better horse, on top form, than Long Run. What more can he do? Five King Georges, two Cheltenham Gold Cups, four Betfair Chases.
He has won 16, yes 16, Grade 1 chases in his career. Yes he has suffered setbacks and disappointments, but he has bounced back and shown that beneath all that class he has a truck load of toughness and courage to boot.
Ruby Walsh said recently to the Racing Post that ‘Cheltenham ain’t Disney’ but on the 16th of March 2012 when, touch wood, all the main challengers in the Gold Cup coming powering down that hill and face into that final climb it will be Walsh and Kauto Star that will propel themselves into a galaxy apart from their rivals.