Kauto Star retirement: Tributes to Cheltenham Gold Cup's brightest star
The day had to come, but it’s hard to believe that the incredible Kauto Star, king of the Cheltenham Festival, will race no more.
Champion National Hunt trainer Paul Nicholls broke the news of the magnificent steeplechaser’s retirement yesterday, and for a moment in the Somerset village of Ditcheat, where Kauto has paraded after winning, and retaking his Cheltenham Gold Cup crown, it suddenly seemed as though the sun had gone in, or a saddlecloth had been thrown over the gleaming Gold Cup.
Kauto’s record of 16 grade One wins, including two Gold Cups, and five King George VI Chases, will make him a legend for years to come. It was no wonder that villagers spoke of him as if he was a conquering human hero.
There had been talk of the horse retiring last season. After all, who could ask more than he had given, but he won the Betfair Chase at Haydock last November, beating the reigning Gold Cup winner. Another entry in the Gold Cup followed and many dreamt of a fairytale ending, but he was pulled up on what has proved to be his final start.
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Even so, the 12-year-old looked in superb form in September at Mr Nicholls’ annual owners’ day, and the trainer said one last run in the King George VI at Kempton Park on Boxing Day was a possibility. It has taken those connected with the horse some time to make the final decision. Of course owner Clive Smith was the man who had the final say.
Speaking in his Betfair column, Mr Nicholls said: “The end of an era has finally arrived. Clive was here this morning and we have taken the decision to retire Kauto Star.
"We have had nine superb years with the horse but, after seeing him in his work these past few weeks, myself, Clifford (Baker, head lad) and Dan (Skelton, assistant trainer) were of the opinion that the time had arrived to retire him.
"Of course, as owner, the final decision rested with Clive, but he agreed that the horse had done enough.
"Don’t get me wrong, Kauto looks and feels as vibrant as ever, as those who saw him at our owners’ open day last month would testify. He was mad fresh that day and continues to be as alert as ever and very, very well in himself.
“But I suspect Kauto will be like that when he is 20 years old. And, deep down, we know he has done enough – and in some ways I think we have to protect him from himself. And maybe ourselves, too.
“He has given me my best days in the sport and, even though the Gold Cups and King Georges are the pinnacles for any staying chaser, with his 2009 Kempton win breathtakingly impressive, the raw emotion that followed his Haydock win last November will live longest in my memory.
"I had to hold myself together to stop myself being in floods of tears that day, and I just about managed it. He is a once-in-a-lifetime horse.”
KAUTO STAR - ANATOMY OF A LEGEND
Sire: Village Star
Dam: Kauto Relka
Foaled: March 19, 2000, in France
Owner: Clive Smith
Trainer: Paul Nicholls at his stables in Ditcheat, Somerset
Jockeys since arriving in Britain: Ruby Walsh, Mick Fitzgerald, Sam Thomas and Tony McCoy
Career earnings: £2,375,883
Race record: 23 wins from 41 starts, including 16 victories at Grade One level
Major races won: Cheltenham Gold Cup (2007 and 2009), King George VI Chase (2006, 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2011), Betfair Chase (2006, 2007, 2009 and 2011), Tingle Creek Chase (2005 and 2006), Ascot Chase (2008), JNwine.com Champion Chase (2008 and 2010), AON Chase (2007).
KAUTO STAR - A LEGEND'S CAREER IN PICTURES