For most horses finishing third in a Grade 1 contest would be an amazing achievement, but for the mighty Kauto Star, winner of 14 top flight races including the previous four King George VI Chase's, his defeat at Kempton Park on January 15 at the hands of the five years younger Long Run, was greeted with dismay. Don't be too quick to write off this truly great champion though, writes Elliot Slater.
Placing sentiment to one side for a moment, there's little doubt that Kauto Star is not quite the horse he was, as his trainer Paul Nicholls ruefully observed after the race, “he does seem to have lost half a yard of pace”. But Kauto's half-a-yard less is still many yards ahead of most other horses on the planet.
Beaten fair and square by a tremendously talented, much younger opponent, Kauto Star never looked to be travelling particularly well on the final circuit but continued to battle away and had moved into second place, (although without a hope of catching the winner), when making an almighty blunder from which McCoy did very well indeed to keep the partnership intact. That mistake cost him the runner's-up spot as Riverside Theatre, (like the winner, trained by Nicky Henderson), came through to finish second, with Kauto Star far from disgraced, crossing the line in third. Admittedly, the horse racing betting odds made him a strong favourite at the start, but he still put in a decent performance.
Could the three week delay have counted against Nicholls' charge? Bringing him to a peak for Boxing Day only for that race to be postponed to three weeks later, surely meant that Nichols had to let the horse down before building him back up again. When Kauto Star was slammed by stable companion Denman in the 2008 Cheltenham Gold Cup many people wrote him off, only for him to return to become the first horse in history to regain the title.
Father Time may well have caught up with the mighty horse, but his will to win was definitely still there at Kempton. Let's not consign him to the history books just yet.