The real Star of Christmas: Kauto joins the pantheon of greats
The great stand out from the merely very good in any sport – they don” t need experts to point out their extraordinary talent.
Watch your first match and you”d still probably be able to tell that Lionel Messi or Wayne Rooney can do magical things with a football or that Kevin Pieterson can mix artistry with brutality when wielding a cricket bat.
I remember the great West Indian bowler Courtenay Walsh explaining why the late Malcolm Marshall was so revered.
Star of wonder: Paul Nicholls and Kauto Star return to a warm reception at Ditcheat
It wasn”t because he could bamboozle a batsman on a wicket offering him help but because he could get wickets by using his skills on the most unresponsive of pitches.
In some ways, Kauto Star is the same. He is no one-trick pony. From two miles to three and a quarter miles, over the speed-biased flat terrain of Kempton, the stamina-sapping undulations of Cheltenham or the demanding fences at Sandown, he has delivered at the highest level.
It is that versatility that truly sets him apart.
Few horses can match him.
Desert Orchid was a similar athlete but did not master Cheltenham to the same extent as Kauto Star.
Something old, something new: Kauto Star clears the last with Gold Cup winner Long Run trailing
That”s why I rate Kauto marginally the better horse and after Boxing Day”s fifth King George victory I believe Kauto Star can justifiably talked off as one of the top three staying steeplechasers of all-time.
I have only read about Golden Miller but his achievement of winning five Cheltenham Gold Cups during the 1930s is incredible.
Forget trying to compare the raw ability of horses over different eras, that is never going to work because of advances in training techniques and the way the sport is conducted.
The best you can do on an objective basis is compare what the horses achieved in their careers and I marvel at what Golden Miller did in the Gold Cup and Grand National.
I was a child when Arkle burst on the scenes.
His rider Pat Taaffe was my godfather.
Starry-eyed: Ruby Walsh with Kauto Star after the gelding”s fifth King George VI Chase victory
My memories of what many have only seen on flickering back and white pictures are of a horse whose mere name was synonymous with excellence.
Arkle, trained by Tom Dreaper is Ireland, was both a national hero and freak of nature.
He murdered the opposition and they had to change the rules to accommodate his outrageous talent.
I never thought I would argue that a horse had similar talent but I am prepared to with Kauto Star and that is a measure of the horse.
The range of his 40-race career swells our admiration but it has taken a final twist late for the wider racing and general public to appreciate the gelding bred in France but made in Britain.
Inspiring: Kauto Star is the best marketing tool racing could have
It has been a slow-burn, maybe because he is not flamboyant, more ruthlessly and relentlessly efficient.
The British love an underdog and a comeback story and that is what they have got with Kauto Star this season.
Only last month he was been written off and pensioned of by some.
The ability to claw your way back to the top endears sportsmen and women to the public and horses are no different.
There is also a sense that we don”t like our stars too pure and Kauto Star has overcome hiccoughs through his life.
His jumping was not flawless in his early steeplechases and he became associated with last fence blunders at one stage.
But he has become slick and reliable. Kauto Star has conquered jump racing. He is back as king.
But he has done more than that. He has pushed the sport to a wider audience.
His Gold Cup clash with young rival Long Run, the horse who took his King George and Gold Cup titles last season, at Cheltenham in March will inevitably be box office gold, publicity for jump racing no amount of PR work could buy.
It will billed as The Decider with the score standing at 2-2.
To win the race again when 12-years-old will add another accolade. No horse has won the Gold Cup when that old since What A Myth in 1969 When he finally retires, Kauto Star”s name will rank alongside the greats that non-racing people know.
Horses like Arkle, Seabiscuit and Red Rum. And that is probably his greatest achievement.
GREAT NAMES AND GREAT MEMORIES
OF THE WONDER HORSES
Eight-time champion jockey Peter Scudamore with his top 10 long-distance steeplechasers of all time.
1 Golden Miller
The most successful horse in Cheltenham Gold Cup history winning for five consecutive years (1932-36). Also the only horse to win the Gold Cup and Grand National in the same year (1934), setting a course record in the latter. Trained by Basil Briscoe and owned by eccentric Dorothy Paget, he won 29 of his 52 starts. In any era that record stands the test of time.
The three-time Cheltenham Gold Cup winner (1964-6), who also won a Irish National (1964), King George (1965) and two Hennessy Gold Cups (1964-5). A national hero in Ireland whose performances prompted a change in the rules. So superior was he over his opponents that different handicaps had to be framed if he took part in races. His name will always be synonymous with excellence.
3 Kauto Star
What a record. Two Cheltenham Gold Cups (2007 & 09), five King Georges (2006-09 and 2011) and two Tingle Creek Chases (2005-06).The greatest staying chaser of the current era. The ability to compete over a variety of distances makes him so special as well as his durability. In a career stretching back to March 2003 , he has raced 40 times, completed the course 35 times and, on those runs, finished out of the first three only once. With almost 2.4million in prizemoney, the Paul Nicholls-trained chaser is Britain’s biggest earning jumper.
4 Desert Orchid
Landed the Cheltenham Gold Cup (1989), four King Georges (1986, 88-90), an Irish National (1990) and the Tingle Creek Chase (1988) for trainer David Elsworth. The flying grey (right) who captured public hearts. His versatility was arguably even greater than Kauto Star, winning from two miles to three miles five furlongs. He also produced some great handicap runs. But he could not master Cheltenham as well as Kauto Star even though he finally ended his Gold Cup hoodoo.
5 Best Mate
Henrietta Knight’s chaser deserves his place in this list by virtue of his three Cheltenham Gold Cups (2002-04), the first horse to achieve that feat since Arkle. Also landed the King George (2002). One of the best jumpers of a fence that I have ever seen. Smooth and economical. Just lacked the range of career of those horses rated higher on my list.
Irish winner of two Cheltenham Gold Cups (1970-1) and a Grand National (1975) when ridden by Tommy Carberry. The Dan Moore-trained gelding is second only to Golden Miller in his performances in the Gold Cup and Grand National and a horse whose achievements are often overlooked.
7 Captain Christy
May be a surprise to some to be on this list but won the Cheltenham Gold Cup (1974), two King Georges (1974-75) plus an Irish Champion Hurdle (1973). An erratic but brilliant chaser whose 30-length demolition of Bula in the 1975 was close to steeplechasing perfection. He won his Gold Cup as a novice and, in raw ability terms, was one of the best I’ve ever seen.
8 Dawn Run
Still the only horse to win the Cheltenham Gold Cup (1986) and Champion Hurdle (1984). Deserves her place on this list for that Gold Cup effort alone when she orchestrated one of the most emotional afternoons I have ever experienced on a racecourse with her defeat of three-time King George winner Wayward Lad. She may not have been the best of jumpers but no horse had a bigger heart.
9 Burrough Hill Lad
The one horse in this list that I rode and winner of the Cheltenham Gold Cup (1984), King George (1984), Welsh National (1983) and Hennessy Gold Cup (1984). He may not have had the electric pace of some other greats but the Jenny Pitman-trained gelding was streets ahead of his rivals when injury was not hampering his career. Defying 12 stone to win the Hennessy was a colossal weight carrying performance that sticks in the memory.
10 See More Business
Like Kauto Star, trained by Paul Nicholls but not a ‘sexy’ horse. Still managed to win a Cheltenham Gold Cup (1999) and two King Georges (1997 & 99). Won 18 of his 36 starts and was still competing at the top level at 13 years of age. His record might have looked even better had he not been carried out in the 1998 Gold Cup.