Ruby Walsh: I never thought Kauto Star was finished… but Long Run will be too good
National treasure: Kauto Star
Ruby Walsh is emphatic about who should be feeling the heat most in the countdown to the William Hill King George VI Chase on Boxing Day – and it is not him.
The Irish jockey may be trying to steer national treasure Kauto Star to an unprecedented fifth win in the Kempton race but, he insists, it is amateur rival Sam Waley-Cohen on Long Run who must deal with much greater pressure.
A new hierarchy is being hailed in steeplechasing and, even after Kauto Star”s emotional defeat of his younger rival in last month”s Betfair Chase, Walsh insists he and one of the greatest jumpers the sport has seen are underdogs.
“Last season Sam was riding the big white hope, now he”s riding a superstar,” says Walsh. “I know Long Run”s a family horse but with the tag of a King George and Cheltenham Gold Cup winner comes that bit of pressure. He seems to be handling it well but it is a different ball game. I know that.”
Indeed, few are better qualified to comment. No other jump jockey competes so successfully at the top level as 32-year-old Walsh.
Success on Willie Mullins-trained duo Boston Bob and Zaidpour at Navan last Sunday made it 16 Grade One wins since the Cheltenham Festival in March when, returning after four months out with a broken leg, he silenced the doubters with a storming success on Al Ferof in the opener.
The 15 wins to follow have been gained despite yet another lengthy lay-off with a neck injury. In the same period, Richard Johnson has had six Grade One wins, Barry Geraghty five and, for all his success, Tony McCoy only one.
The potent ammunition supplied by Mullins and British champion Paul Nicholls ensures Walsh”s enthusiasm is undimmed, despite the physical toll and constant danger that saw a mount kick off his helmet at Newbury last month as his prostrate frame was battered by flailing hooves.
Superstar: Long Run (left)
“I”ve had my fair share of injuries, probably more,” says the jockey, whose spleen was removed following a blow to the stomach in 2008. “Injuries are part of a National Hunt jockey”s life. People from the outside don”t realise that jump jockeys don”t just do it for the money. It”s a love, an addiction.
“It”s something I live with. When you get hurt, all you think of is the next time you are going to ride a winner. Pain is temporary. Horses have been my life and are all I know. Do I have the temperament to train (when I retire) I don”t know but I”m sure I”ll find out. It will be a new challenge but hopefully one I don”t have to find out about for a long time.”
Kauto Star has played a massive role in fulfilling Walsh”s passion for riding big winners. The duo have secured four King Georges and two Cheltenham Gold Cups in their 16 successes. Their partnership stretches back to a novice chase at Newbury on December 29, 2004.
THE STORY SO FAR
JANUARY 15, 2011 King George VI Chase, Kempton
Kauto Star is 4-7 to secure a fifth King George, but the champion’s jumping lacks fluency for substitute jockey AP McCoy. Long Run, a 9-2 chance, travels smoothly throughout to beat stablemate Riverside Theatre 12 lengths, with Kauto Star seven lengths further back in third.
March 18, 2011 Cheltenham Gold Cup
Long Run is the 7-2 favourite but makes several minor mistakes as Kauto Star (5-1) forges ahead with Denman on the final circuit. But as the trio charge to the penultimate fence, Long Run drives past his older rivals to beat Denman seven lengths. Kauto Star is four lengths further back.
November 19, 2011 Betfair Chase, Haydock
With his future on the line, 6-1 chance Kauto Star is given an attacking, front-running ride by Walsh. Long Run, the 6-5 favourite, holds on stoutly despite three blunders in the back straight but can’t reel in Kauto Star, who goes away to win by eight lengths.
Rarely does a jockey have a chance to forge such an extended relationship with a mount. That this era is close to an end was emphasised when Kauto Star”s stablemate and rival Denman suffered a career-ending injury this month.
“Kauto Star is just an incredible horse,” says Walsh. “With a racehorse, any day can be the end of the road. They are fragile. I never thought Kauto and Denman would last so many years going head to head. It”s a testament to Paul Nicholls.”
Walsh must have feared the glory days were over when 11-year-old Kauto Star, under McCoy, succumbed to six-year-old Long Run in last year”s King George. Defeat in the Gold Cup followed and then Kauto Star was pulled up at Punchestown. But now history beckons on Boxing Day as Kauto Star seeks to go one better than the mighty four-time King George winner Desert Orchid.
Walsh insists it is not sentiment that has made him choose Kauto Star over younger Nicholls-trained stablemate and 11-2 third favourite Master Minded, the former two-mile champion chaser racing over three miles for the first time.
Walsh said: “Master Minded will stay and he has a cracking chance. The plan for him has always been Kempton. The plan for Kauto was Haydock but things have changed. He”s been so good at Kempton.
“You were thinking, “Is there another Grade One in Kauto” but I never thought he was finished. He gives you so much, you never think you”ve no chance.”
Oh yes, Haydock; the most emotional day of the racing year when calls for the fading Kauto Star to be retired were drowned out as he roared to a first win over Long Run and a fourth Betfair Chase success. It was vintage Kauto Star and Long Run, trained by Nicky Henderson and owned by Waley-Cohen”s father Robert, couldn”t live with him. The old champion had picked himself off the canvas and bloodied the nose of the upstart who had wrested his titles away. But what of the re-match
“Kauto was in great nick, probably a better horse than he was at any stage last season, but I didn”t think he”d beat Long Run and I don”t think he”ll beat him in the King George,” admits Walsh.
“That doesn”t mean I don”t hope he will. I just think Long Run will be a better horse in the King George. Long Run looked a bit ring rusty at Haydock and that was the way he ran. Paul”s horses traditionally hit top gear three to four weeks before Nicky”s do. Paul”s are still going, Nicky”s have just caught up.”
Are those just the honest words of a professional Or could they be designed to heap pressure on Waley-Cohen Surely not, Ruby.