Ruby Walsh believes the JNWine.com Champion Chase, set to be renewed this Saturday at Down Royal as the renamed Ladbrokes Champion Chase, was the perfect race for Kauto Star to make his comeback at after an infamous fall during the 2010 Cheltenham Gold Cup.
The legendary steeplechaser was hunting his third Gold Cup and up against fierce rival and stablemate Denman when he fell four fences from home at Prestbury Park, and it was the best part of nine months before trainer Paul Nicholls ran his superstar again.
But Kauto Star came back with a bang, beating Sizing Europe by four lengths to show he still had what it took to compete at the top level.
Recounting Kauto Star’s comeback on the Racing Gold segment of Paddy Power’s now twice-weekly From The Horse’s Mouth podcast, jockey-turned-pundit Ruby – who was in the saddle that day – feels the Champion Chase at Down Royal is an excellent event for horses returning from a lay-off.
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RUBY WALSH: Kauto Star was showing plenty to suggest he was still ready to race.
Clifford Baker and Paul Nicholls were very happy with him and they were delighted to come to the north with him. I think the JNWine.com Champion Chase suited Kauto Star.
It suited a lot of horses – being a Grade 1, you didn’t have to give away the penalty that you would have to give away in the Charlie Hall Chase, which is traditionally on the same weekend.
Down Royal usually has slower ground than Wetherby would have so for a Grade 1 winner like Kauto Star, Down Royal is the ideal time for a prep run for the King George. He won it in 2008, then went and won it again in 2010.
With the nature of Irish chases, compared to English ones, you build through the race so there is a bit more of a sprint finish in the Irish race. Whereas in the Charlie Hall they would go flat-out from start to finish, so the JNWine can often be a better first run than the Charlie Hall can be.
It suited Kauto Star for lots of reasons. He was very good on the day.
I remember the day more so for breaking my leg in the next race on Corrick Bridge, but that’s only my memory of it!
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Kauto Star attempted to make history by securing his fifth King George VI Chase on his next outing but finished third behind Long Run and Riverside Theatre, leading to calls for the Clive Smith-owned runner to be retired.
A third-place finish in the 2011 Gold Cup followed by Ruby pulling Kauto Star up for the first time in his career during the Punchestown Gold Cup only amplified the urgings for a retirement.
Nicholls and Smith ignored the criticism and were duly rewarded with victory in the Betfair Chase at Haydock followed by a record-breaking fifth King George at Kempton, and our man Paddy Power feels this justifies keeping experienced horses racing.
PADDY POWER: It makes no sense to immediately retire a horse after a fall. It make no sense to say ‘we love this horse so much that we don’t want to see him racing again.’
Sometimes sad things happen, but most of the time, the trainer and the connections know the horse very well and they know if the horse stops enjoying it. A lot of the horses just love their racing.
You could say its sad to see a horse get beyond its former glory days but if the horse is still enjoying it, he’s still enjoying it.
I can’t imagine that Paul Nicholls and Clive Smith were thinking ‘we’ll try and get Kauto Star to win a handicap in three years time’ when they brought him back. I’m sure they still believed he was capable of mixing it at the top, and they were right!
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