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Page last updated at 07:44 GMT, Saturday, 25 December 2010

High five for Kauto Star

William Hill King George VI Chase
Date: 27 December Time: 1515 GMT Racecourse: Kempton Park
Coverage: BBC Radio 5 live, Channel 4, live updates on BBC Sport website

Ruby Walsh rides Kauto Star to victory in 2009
Kauto Star, ridden by Ruby Walsh, won his fourth King George last year

By Frank Keogh

Two champions, two dreams dashed, a friend of royalty, the dashing actor, Take That, an Irish plasterer and the race against time are all part of the story.

All fascinating little sub-plots in the tale of a record-breaking racehorse with a historic achievement in his sights.

It will be a once-in-a-lifetime moment when Kauto Star finally lines up to attempt an unprecedented fifth consecutive victory in the King George VI Chase.

That moment is set to be on Monday 27 December, 24 hours later than anticipated, as staff at Kempton Park battle against the big freeze to stage the race.

Victory for Kauto Star ought to guarantee his position as the classiest steeplechaser of the last 40 years.

Even the great galloping grey Desert Orchid could go no further than four King George wins in a five-year stretch.

Champion trainer Paul Nicholls has guided the French-bred Kauto Star through his run of successes, and the 15-time champion jockey AP McCoy will ride him in a race for the first time.

McCoy had not even sat on the dual Cheltenham Gold Cup winner, who cuts a dash with a distinctive white blaze down his nose, until Thursday when he schooled him over 40 fences at his Somerset stables.

While the two champions got to know each other, the festive hopes of two men were shattered.

Ruby Walsh, who has ridden Kauto Star in all four of his previous King George wins, will sit quietly in another country as he recovers from a broken leg, while his replacement Noel Fehily nurses an injured wrist. Both wondering what might have been.

"I won't travel. In my own selfish way it will be a sad enough day watching him winning so I think I'd rather be on my own," says Ruby Walsh as he speaks to BBC Sport from his home in County Kildare, Ireland.

"I'll definitely watch it because horses are my life. He's been such a good horse to me that I'm sure as hell going to be supporting him. I'll watch it but not in the public eye."

Stepping in is his friend and rival, man-of-the-moment McCoy, the newly crowned BBC Sports Personality of the Year.

AP McCoy
McCoy has suffered many defeats on other horses by Kauto Star

He knows Kauto's backside well, having suffered defeat by him on six different horses. McCoy has finished sixth, second, third and second again in the last four King Georges, beaten by a total of more than 96 lengths.

Whether the pair will immediately gel remains to be seen. McCoy's record of more than 3,300 winners speaks for itself but he lost when stepping in for the first time on other Gold Cup winners, Best Mate and Denman.

Kauto Star is twice the age of second favourite Long Run, the precocious five-year-old, who will be ridden by Sam Waley-Cohen, an amateur jockey taking on the champ.

Some critics, notably pundit John McCririck, suggest the horse needs a professional rider, but Waley-Cohen - whose friends number royal bride-to-be Kate Middleton - is amateur in name only.

He has won three times over the Grand National fences at Aintree - twice in the Foxhunters and once in the Topham Chase - whereas McCoy has his famous solitary success over the famous obstacles on Don't Push It in April's National.

"If I didn't think he could do him justice, I wouldn't let him ride him," says his father Robert, owner of the Nicky Henderson-trained Long Run.

"In my view, Sam is as good as any jockey at presenting horses at fences and his record at Aintree particularly bears that out.

"I don't think there is any professional riding today who has won three and placed three over the Grand National fences.

"He is never going to be as strong as a pro in a finish, but most races are won out in the country."

So is Long Run, never out of the first three in 16 races, good enough to depose a racing great?

"We have the king of Kempton who has won four times in a row and is going for a fifth. He is a worthy favourite, but ageing kings always have to worry about the up-and-coming ambitious prince," says Waley-Cohen senior.

The bloodstock agent, Anthony Bromley, who helped find both horses, believes Long Run may have to wait.

"Potentially, Long Run will become a winner of the King George at some stage but personally, I think it might be a year too soon for him to topple Kauto Star who may still be at the top of his game," he told me.

Aside from Long Run, there are several other horses potentially on the upgrade.

Stablemate Riverside Theatre is part-owned by McCoy's Northern Irish compatriot James Nesbitt. The Cold Feet actor is expected to be at Kempton, where his horse has won four times.


Ireland has two equine challengers in Forpadydeplasterer and Sizing Europe.

Supporters of Forpadydeplasterer sing 'they never go fasterer' although he has been second 10 times in his last 11 runs. Named after a plasterer who helped former Irish leader Bertie Ahern out of some financial difficulty, he did however win the Arkle Chase at Cheltenham in 2009.

Sizing Europe is the latest Arkle Chase winner, who was a creditable four-length second to Kauto Star last time on his first try at the three-mile trip.

Other contenders include Kauto Star's stablemate The Nightingale, last year's gallant fourth Nacarat and Planet of Sound, who beat Denman at Punchestown in April.

The last two King George runners-up Madison Du Berlais and Albertas Run, along with Ollie Magern, complete the field.

Whatever the winner, Kempton clerk of the course Brian 'Barney' Clifford will be relieved if the race goes ahead after a tortuous build-up hampered by the cold spell.

His team put down 250 heavy frost covers 12 days before the scheduled fixture, but snow and plunging temperature saw them glued to the ground.

Clifford hopes for a thaw because he knows just how special a fifth Kauto win would be.

"Not only is it an amazing achievement by the horse, but it is an amazing training achievement. The emphasis at Kempton is on speed and stamina and he has shown that year after year," said Clifford.

The historical significance is not lost on course managing director Amy Starkey, who has been liaising with race sponsors William Hill.

"We will be looking to do 'Come On Kauto' cards for racegoers to show whilst the race is going on and to take home as a memory from the day," she says.

"The sponsors have been running a website competition to name the tune the winner walks into.

"I like Rule The World by Take That, but we did that last year. There have been all sorts of suggestions, including The Winner Takes It All."

Whoever calls the tune in the King George, Kauto Star's proud Kempton record will be recognised in some way. Desert Orchid's achievements were illustrated with an elegant lifesize statue which overlooks the parade ring.

"Kauto Star is very important to Kempton Park and at an appropriate time, his achievements will be marked," says Starkey.

"It is something that needs to be discussed. I would see it being some kind of recognition. At Kempton, we like to be innovative, so we'll see."

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see also
The Kauto Star story
29 Oct 12 |  Horse Racing
January date for King George race
26 Dec 10 |  Horse Racing
McCoy rides favourite Kauto Star
24 Dec 10 |  Horse Racing
Kauto races to King George record
26 Dec 09 |  Horse Racing
Kauto destined for Dessie mantle
22 Dec 09 |  Horse Racing
Kauto Star secures thrilling win
21 Nov 09 |  Horse Racing
Historic Gold Cup win for Kauto
13 Mar 09 |  Horse Racing
Racing boosted by Kauto Star
17 Mar 07 |  Horse Racing

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