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Page last updated at 16:26 GMT, Saturday, 26 December 2009

Four cheers for Kauto Star

Kauto Star
Kauto Star is the first horse to win the King George VI Chase four times in a row

By Frank Keogh

Name a horse, any horse.

What's your answer? Black Beauty, Mister Ed, Dobbin…

Change that, then. Name a racehorse, any racehorse.

Answer? Shergar, Red Rum, Desert Orchid.

Put another one in your memory bank - Kauto Star, the best horse I have seen in my lifetime of 40 years.

He may not have punctuated the public's consciousness fully, yet, in the same way as the kidnapped Derby winner Shergar, triple Grand National hero Rummy or the galloping grey Dessie.

But as with life, we often do not value our horses until they've gone, or at least finished racing.

Witness Sea The Stars, whose unprecedented Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe victory in Paris in October capped an unbeaten season at the highest level on the Flat.


Yet it was his retirement, and not his career-defining victory, that generated the biggest headlines.

Now it is time to savour an equine hero in his prime - a living, breathing example of what makes horse racing, and perhaps jump racing in particular, one of the most thrilling and enduring sports.

Kauto Star's record fourth victory on the trot in the King George VI Chase on Boxing Day went one better than Dessie, whose awesome foursome in the festive showpiece came over a five-year period from 1986 to 1990.

"He's a wonderful horse and has great courage - just the loveliest horse you could ever own," his owner Clive Smith told BBC Sport.

The king of Kempton can sock it to his rivals elsewhere - he's won the Cheltenham Gold Cup twice, in the process becoming the only horse in history to reclaim the coveted crown, while Dessie only managed it once.

And he has shown the versatility, speed, class and sheer guts that make a champion in any sphere.

The French-bred horse, who is trained by Paul Nicholls in the Somerset village of Ditcheat, has won top-class races over distances ranging from two miles to more than three-and-a-quarter miles.

Kauto is a wonderful horse, tremendously talented, a great jumper, and what's so lovely is he's like a big pussycat

Owner Clive Smith

While the adage goes that it's horses for courses, Kauto has won at diverse tracks from the flat, unrelenting jumping test that is Kempton Park to the rollercoaster, stamina-laden challenge of Cheltenham.

Trainer Nicholls has a wealth of riches at his stables in Ditcheat. Kauto's next-door neighbour is the animal nicknamed 'The Tank' - Denman, who beat Kauto in the 2008 Gold Cup and was runner-up the following year in their only two meetings.

In any other year, Denman's victory in the Hennessy Gold Cup at Newbury in November would have no parallel.

The horse, who nearly died when he suffered a heart murmur last year, came back with a vengeance when giving nearly a stone in weight away to all his main rivals and powering to victory.

Denman is Kauto's next-door neighbour and a mighty beast in his own right. They may be 'only' horses, but you get the feeling they want bragging rights as well.

"As you go into Paul Nicholls' yard, Kauto is in the first box on the right. He stands at the door and nods as if to say 'I'm the king here'," said Smith.

Kauto v Denman part III should be some occasion and is on track to happen at the Cheltenham Gold Cup on 19 March, 2010.

The great racehorses seemingly have personalities of their own.

Mighty Irish chaser Arkle, probably the best there will ever be, allegedly liked a drop of stout and would receive post simply addressed to 'Himself, Ireland.'

Desert Orchid
Desert Orchid won four King George VI Chases between 1986 and 1990

Rummy appeared on the BBC Sports Personality of the Year show in the 1970s while Dessie got whiter as the years progressed.

Kauto, with a long white blaze down his nose, has his own temperament. He's been known to clatter a late fence when well clear, or have a look at the crowd, when he should be looking ahead.

"I was down at Paul's one day and was holding him by the bridle, and all the photographers' cameras were going off," added Smith, a 59-year-old businessman who lives in Surrey.

"He had all the pictures taken, and I put my hand under his chin, and he was on my shoulder, and he just started to go to sleep. He's such a big lovely horse."

Kauto's fourth Kempton win, again under the astute Irish jockey Ruby Walsh, was probably his best of all as he demolished his opponents by a record distance.

"He's apparently considered one of the best of all time," said Smith, who made his fortune through the success of pay-and-play-golf courses.

"It's very difficult to talk about eras, like golf. How do you compare Ben Hogan and Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods?"

Comparisons with Arkle, Dessie and triple Gold Cup winner Best Mate will go on. Arkle won big handicap chases, giving weight away to the rest of the field, while Kauto sticks to the top-grade races.

"I was at the King George when Arkle ran his last race. I patted him on the back and said 'goodbye old mate'," said Smith.

"I know how good Arkle was, but one thing he didn't do was win too many big races over two miles. Kauto has won over two miles in terrific style.

"Kauto is a wonderful horse, tremendously talented, a great jumper, and what's so lovely is he's like a big pussycat.

"I think he's a people's horse. He's not really mine, he's everybody's."

The fact is there is only one Kauto Star. A superstar in his own right.

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see also
Kauto races to King George record
26 Dec 09 |  Horse Racing
The Kauto Star story
29 Oct 12 |  Horse Racing
BBC racing coverage
09 Apr 11 |  Horse Racing

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