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Cheltenham – Racing: King Kauto rises from the canvas

We're counting down our Top 3 Cheltenham Festival moments with the 2022 Festival now but a week away – in second place is Kauto Star's historic second Gold Cup victory.

Dawn Run's unforgettable Gold Cup glory from 1986 took our bronze medal in this list and we'll unveil the top pick later today but, for now, it's Kauto Star in the 2009 Gold Cup at No.2.

Paul Nicholls' charge had surrendered the crown a year previous and no horse, before or since, has achieved what Kauto Star managed on 13th March, 2009.

Gold Cup standing dish

The sheer longevity of Kauto Star was undoubtedly one of his endearing factors. He ran at seven consecutive Cheltenham Festivals from 2006 onwards, with a masterful six of those runs coming in the Gold Cup itself.

Considering that many horses are said to have been 'broken' by the effort of winning the Blue Riband, it was a spectacular feat of fitness all by itself.

A faller in the Queen Mother Champion Chase of 2006, a race he was favourite to win, Kauto came back to Cheltenham in '07 having won all five starts that season. The Betfair Chase, the Tingle Creek and the King George were amongst them – with the wins at Haydock and Kempton teeing him up for a crack at the £1m Triple Crown Bonus if he won the Gold Cup.

Win it he did, fending off old foe Exotic Dancer under Ruby Walsh in a really commanding performance to win the Gold Cup at the first attempt.

Floored by The Tank

The 2008 Gold Cup was probably the most talked-about renewal in the glorious history of the race. That was all down to one man and two horses.

Paul Nicholls had the two best staying chasers of that time living side-by-side in his Ditcheat yard – Kauto Star and Denman – and as the Cheltenham Festival of 2008 rolled around, he was ready to let them take each other on.

This was a Muhammad Ali vs. Joe Frazier heavyweight battle, an Oasis vs. Blur clash for the hearts and minds of the racing public. Form couldn't split them, but opinion sure did divide them.

The Kauto vs. Denman show exploded in the countdown to the Festival, as long before the proper advent of social media, they were front and back-page news.

As it transpired, Denman would steal away Kauto's crown with a remorseless physical display, taking up the running with a circuit to go under Sam Thomas and simply galloping Ruby Walsh and Kauto Star (as well as everything else) into submission.

It was and is to Kauto's immense credit that he rallied up the Cheltenham hill when the prize was gone away from him to get second spot, showing the heart of a fighter to muscle past Neptune Collonges.

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Taking back what was mine

Onwards then to 2009 and the rematch. Denman had heart issues and ran only once between Gold Cups, while Kauto had an up-and-down season en route back to the Cotswolds.

He won over at Down Royal on his comeback but unseated Sam Thomas at the final fence in the Betfair Chase a month later. He was peerless on Boxing Day in the King George – barring his by-now customary clattering of the final fence – and so came to Cheltenham as the 7/4 favourite to win a second Gold Cup.

Multiple Gold Cup successes were nothing new – of course – but Kauto Star would be required to break new ground in 2009 as no horse had ever won a Gold Cup, run and lost another, and then regained the mantle.

This was jumps racing's ultimate test and his neighbour Denman wasn't going to move aside easily now back in full health.

Vintage performance from a Star

Ruby Walsh wasn't about to get caught out again by Denman's powerful assault from the front.

This time, he had Kauto Star – by now a nine-year-old – close on the heels of the leaders, which included rank outsider Snoopy Loopy and Neptune Collonges – third the previous season.

Exotic Dancer was there again, while The Queen's Barber Shop was another expected to go well for Nicky Henderson and they were in the mix at the business end of the race.

This time it was different, Kauto Star covered all moves and hit the front after they jumped three out with Walsh still motionless on his back. He put daylight between himself and the pack and cleared the final two obstacles in isolation, with Denman chasing vainly in his wake.

As with Kauto a year before, it was to his credit that the big horse repelled Exotic Dancer to be second with the winner gone clear.

The superstar next door

This feels like it should be a joint award, though it is certainly Kauto Star's honour for that chunky piece of Festival history he engineered in 2009.

But for his next door neighbour beating him a year previous, King Kauto might never have regained the Gold Cup – though he surely would have won three-in-a-row in that instance.

The next door neighbours were the icons that defined the greatest spell in Nicholls' training career (so far).

Their brilliance helped to galvanise one-another and their rivalry was spellbinding at the time.

Between them, Kauto and Denman ran in the Gold Cup ten times, emerging with three wins, four seconds and a third. There was just one fall – Kauto in 2010 – and the great horse's final appearance in 2012 was the only time either cried enough in this bruising arena, with Denman never out of the first two in four runs.

Again, a true sign of Kauto's greatness was the SP of 3/1 in that final Gold Cup run in 2012 after a renaissance-like winter had seen him win the Betfair Chase and his fifth King George at Kempton just before he turned 12-years-old. A proper Cheltenham Festival great.

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