Horse racing: Smith rejects Kauto Star demise claims

Owner Clive Smith disagrees with the view that age may have caught up with Kauto Star, and is looking forward to the top-class chaser making his annual appearance in the totesport Cheltenham Gold Cup.

The 11-year-old was found to have bled after his bid to record an historic fifth win in a row in the William Hill King George VI Chase at Kempton on Saturday, rearranged from Boxing Day, ended in disappointment when he was only third behind Long Run.

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A mistake at the second-last fence finally put paid to his chance and Tony McCoy, replacing the injured Ruby Walsh, did well to keep the partnership intact.

But it was an overall performance that has led to a view in some quarters that Kauto Star's best days are behind him.

Connections remain undaunted, however, and trainer Paul Nicholls will now prepare Kauto Star for a fifth successive tilt at the Gold Cup, which he won in 2007 and 2009.

"We think he's OK and don't think age has caught up with him," said Smith.

"He didn't quite get to his fences in his usual way.

"I'm not criticising Tony McCoy, he's a wonderful chap and a great jockey, but he's got a different style to Ruby Walsh and maybe that showed.

"It was his first ride on him. It's very hard to get on a horse like Kauto and ride to suit him.

"I thought Tony did very well and we also think the horse may have had an off day.

"He didn't come out of his box so early on Saturday morning, according to his lad Nick Child - he's normally on his toes and running around his box a bit.

"He was a bit more docile, but in the paddock he looked fine and looked very good as though he was going to enjoy himself, so I might not be right there.

"I think he's still got a good chance in the Gold Cup."

Nicholls also believes Kauto Star remains up to the task.

The Ditcheat handler told his Betfair column: "It is an honour to be associated with the horse.

"But I can tell you now that reports of his demise are somewhat exaggerated and there is no talk of retirement here.

"He will be prepared for a tilt at a third Gold Cup victory in March - different ground, different track, different day - and we would like to aim him for a third victory at Down Royal in the autumn, too.

"As long as he is enjoying his racing and running well, then he will continue - he is 11, not 13.

"Yesterday was undoubtedly a big disappointment. He was never travelling or jumping with any real fluency, but it wasn't as if he ran a poor race.

"Without his blunder at the second-last, he probably would have been a

fair second to a very good horse.

"But that clearly wasn't his best form.

"I am not making excuses but I can reveal that when he got back last night and stuck his head in the water bucket, he bled from both nostrils.

"He has never done it before, and will probably never do it again.

"So it is up to me and my team here at Ditcheat to get him right for Cheltenham.

"We will relish the challenge."

Kalvin Phillips

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