'He's not Kauto Star but there'll never be another', says Walsh as he aims for King George VI glory on Kauto Stone
22:45 GMT, 23 December 2012
Ruby Walsh talks to Racing Correspondent Marcus Townend about his attempt to win a sixth King George VI Chase on Kauto Star's little brother Kauto Stone.
Christmas, a time for families. Ruby Walsh hopes that’s the case at Kempton on Boxing Day.
For five of the last six years, the Irish jockey has written ever more remarkable chapters in the King George VI Chase story as Kauto Star made history and ultimately eclipsed the achievements of legendary four-time winner Desert Orchid.
On Wednesday, Walsh will try to write the next one not in stone but on Stone, Kauto Stone, little brother of his horse of a lifetime.
The Christmas king: Ruby Walsh is focussed on fresh challenges as the steeplechasing world has changed
‘He’s not Kauto Star,’ Walsh says with a smile, ‘there won’t ever be another Kauto Star. They’re like chalk and cheese really. Kauto Stone is a different colour and much smaller. But, then again, my brother’s six foot two!’
The 7-1 chance was a grade one winner in France before making the same trip across the Channel last year that Kauto Star made in 2004.
Kauto Stone opened up with a grade two chase win before four defeats, including a flop behind King George rival Riverside Theatre at Ascot in February when Walsh feels he was off colour. That setback dented the horse’s reputation.
But expectations have risen with last month’s win in Down Royal’s three-mile Grade One JNWine.com Champion Chase, a race Kauto Star won twice, when he fended off Flight Lieutenant, the subsequent Hennessy Gold Cup third.
Up for the challenge: Walsh talks to Sportsmail's Racing Correspondent Marcus Townend
Walsh, 33, says: ‘Kauto Stone is a decent horse in his own right. He was good when he won at Down Royal (in November). He proved he gets the three-mile trip which is a question mark for some of the others like Cue Card.
‘He was very good in France and at six-years-old, you’d be hoping there is a bit of improvement there. Trainer Paul Nicholls is very happy with him and Paul’s got a great record in the King George. If he’s happy, I’m happy.’
Happiness is not something that has come gift-wrapped in the Kauto Star world in the last fortnight with the public spat between owner Clive Smith and trainer Nicholls as the retired 12-year-old suddenly left the stable.
Walsh is careful not to get drawn into the crossfire.
The pressure is on: Walsh on-board Kauto Stone at Aintree earlier this year
‘I’ve been reading about it but my time with Kauto Star finished in March. I will forever love him and be indebted to him but I knew when he pulled up in the Gold Cup that I was finished with him,’ Walsh says.
‘My biggest nightmare had always been standing at the back of a fence holding him and waiting for a vet to come.
‘That didn’t happen so when we pulled up, I felt we had had a good time together.
‘I hope I did him justice, he gave me great days and we parted company on a happy note. I didn’t make a big deal of it because that was (Gold Cup winner) Synchronised’s day.
‘I hate it when the horse that is bowing out overshadows the winner. This game is about winning.’
In the post-Kauto Star era, winning the King George will look possible to all 10 jockeys who line up at Kempton.
The fight to be top staying chaser will continue in the Lexus Case at Leopardstown on Friday, when Flemenstar and Sir Des Champs clash again.
Past glory: Ruby Walsh smiles as he looks at Kauto Star after winning The William Hill King George VI in 2011
The landscape has changed, especially for Walsh. Old allies Denman, Neptune Collonges and Master Minded are all retired while Al Ferof, who would have been his King George mount, has a long-term injury.
The rider, too, is back to searching for the new chasing king and he detects vulnerability in 7-4 King George favourite Long Run, the former Gold Cup and King George winner who jousted with Kauto Star in his last two seasons.
The jockey says: ‘Long Run won the (2009) Feltham Novices’ Chase as a four-year-old. He was good at five and six when he won a King George and Gold Cup.
‘Maybe that was his peak, not unlike another French-bred, Master Minded. He was a runaway Champion Chase winner at five, just won at six and not the same at seven. Long Run is still running to a high level of form but not to the level when he won the King George and Gold Cup. Criticism of his amateur jockey Sam Waley-Cohen is not fair, but life is not fair.
‘When you get beaten you’re wrong. The first person to point a finger at is the guy on his back, be it AP, me or Sam.
‘People are jumping on the bandwagon because he is Mr Sam Waley-Cohen but I don’t agree with it. He is still the guy who won a King George, Gold Cup and Feltham Chase on him.
‘He is not doing anything different. I’d say the difference is the horse, not the jockey.’
But for Walsh, the horse really will be different on Boxing Day. Kauto Stone not Kauto Star.
He says: ‘It is different challenge on a new horse. A different era and a different time. It’s like anything, the more you are attached to it the more it hurts when it is not there and there is uncertainty, I suppose. But life moves on and so will I.’
Like a rolling Stone, maybe.
Ruby Walsh is sponsored by Racing UK and Daily Mail readers can enjoy a 25 per cent saving to the premium racing channel on Sky for 12 months. Call 0844 472 5777 (UK) or 0818 776 779 (ROI) and quote 'Daily Mail offer' before December 31.