Very occasionally racing comes across a truly exceptional talent who ignites admiration, adulation and imagination in the whole population. Arkle, Red Rum and Desert Orchid are just three of these equine megastars, but what happens when they are beaten, found to be mortal after all, their racing days waning and over with no way back? Injury or a rare fall usually allows these superheroes to gracefully retire with their reputation intact and their place in the collective hearts of a nation cemented forever.
Occasionally some equine superstars go on too long, a single brave defeat becomes a string of losses in lesser and lesser events until they are fondly remembered as just very good horses whose status was tarnished by going to the well too often but every rule has an exception somewhere and that exception went by the name of Kauto Star.
Already a legend of the turf, Kauto Star had won the Cheltenham Gold Cup twice, the King George four times, matching Desert Orchid’s record, the Betfair chase three times and the Tingle Creek twice among many other successes. He was loved by all, a true star of the steeplechasing world but now he was in sad decline.
He had fallen in the 2010 Cheltenham Gold Cup when his chance had realistically gone. At the start of the following season he had won the JNwine Champion Chase at Down Royal for the second time but that seemed to be the last of the glory days.
Next time out, trying to defend his King George crown, he was a badly beaten third behind the brilliant Long Run, five years his junior, who toyed with the odds-on favourite before storming home miles clear from his nearest pursuer. This race marked the first time in 26 races under the care of Paul Nicholls that Kauto Star had not finished in the first two in a completed race and his next start, the 2011 Cheltenham Gold Cup, would mark the first race for 5½ years where Kauto Star would not start favourite.
In a race for the ages the old timers Denman and Kauto Star sped round the home turn locked together with Long Run breathing down their necks before the younger legs asserted themselves for a fabulous victory. Denman then put four lengths between himself and Kauto Star who barely held on to third place on the line.
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