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Iconic races of the 2010s: Kauto Star wins a fifth King George

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In a new series of articles, Timeform revisit some of the most iconic races of the 2010s. Here we take a look at Kauto Star’s magnificent fifth win in the King George VI Chase at Kempton in 2011.

Build-up

Kauto Star, one of the most popular and talented horses of any era, enjoyed plenty of highlights during a long and illustrious career, including victory in the 2011 King George, which represented a fifth success in the prestigious prize.

Kauto Star - who had been recruited from France – made an instant impression after joining Paul Nicholls in 2004 but it was in the 2006/7 season, after being raised in trip, that he really started to show the full extent of his ability, winning all six of his races, including the Betfair Chase, King George and Cheltenham Gold Cup, completing the chase triple crown.

He was beaten by stablemate Denman when defending his Gold Cup crown in 2007/08, but produced an outstanding effort the following season to regain the prize, becoming the first horse to do so, and was at his very best when landing a fourth King George in December 2009, equaling Desert Orchid’s tally in the race.

However, he took a heavy fall at the fourth-last (looked beaten) when bidding for a third Gold Cup and, after making a winning return at Down Royal, he met with a first defeat in the King George, which had been rescheduled after frost had claimed Kempton’s Boxing Day card.

Another crack at the Gold Cup ensued, but he looked no longer capable of the outstanding performances that had marked him down as one of the all-time greats and he finished a gallant third before being pulled-up at Punchestown, which prompted talk of retirement.

Kauto Star was kept in training, however, and, after impressing Nicholls at home, a decision was made to enter him in the 2011 Betfair Chase.

Remarkably, the 11-year-old produced his best performance since the 2009 King George, jumping impeccably and racing with plenty of enthusiasm in the lead, finding plenty when challenged by Long Run to score by eight lengths and send the crowd into raptures.

That astonishing fifteenth Grade 1 success set Kauto Star up for another crack at the King George and an unprecedented fifth success…

The race

To bounce back in the manner he did at Haydock, in the autumn of his career, underlined the fact that Kauto Star is one of National Hunt’s all-time greats, but his effort in the 2011 running of the King George VI Chase was scarcely believable. For as long as horses race, this contest will be spoken of with awe, and as great a match as has occurred in this championship race’s history.

As well as looking in superb shape, Kauto Star’s demeanour beforehand was in marked contrast to what he shown prior to the previous season’s Gold Cup, seemingly much more relaxed in the preliminaries.

The field included some high-class opposition, including Long Run, a foe Kauto Star already knew well having seemingly spent the latter part of his career in a protracted duel with Nicky Henderson’s top-notch chaser.

Kauto Star had got the better of Long Run at Haydock but arguably had the run of the race, and need to produce another scintillating performance to confirm that form.

Ruby Walsh, who had by this time become synonymous with Kauto Star, was again in the saddle, and he made sure his mount was right up there with the early pace set by Nacarat and Golan Way. He jumped faultlessly, and was always travelling with great economy. Having led at the eighth, he soon stretched the field after the twelfth and Long Run, who had momentarily nudged his way into contention, could not match Kauto Star’s superb jumping.

Around four lengths ahead after four out, Kauto Star maintained the gallop over the last three fences and scored by a length and a quarter, beating Long Run fair and square and leaving the others toiling.

His fifth win in the King George obviously must reflect great credit on both Paul Nicholls and Ruby Walsh, who brought him back to such a high level and worked out, as well as implemented, the perfect tactics to beat Long Run.

The aftermath

Having won the Betfair Chase and King George, beating Long Run on both occasions, attention turned to the Cheltenham Gold Cup. Kauto Star suffered a well-publicised fall in training two weeks before the Gold Cup, casting serious doubts over his participation in the race, but, following a racecourse gallop at Wincanton, was given the green light.

After jumping off with the leaders, Kauto Star lost his position quickly after the sixth, and his final appearance, like that of the great hurdler Istabraq, was one of anti-climax. He was clearly not himself when pulled up on the first circuit and it was later announced by his owner Clive Smith that this would likely be his swansong. His retirement was officially confirmed at the end of October 2012.

Kauto Star, who had a short dressage career after retiring from racing, sadly suffered a fatal accident in 2015, but he will be remembered as a true giant of the sport, the best staying chaser since the days of Arkle.

 
 

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