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Cheltenham Icons: A look at Kauto Star's career

Perhaps no other horse since the turn of this century has captured the public imagination quite like the Paul Nicholls-trained Kauto Star - winner of two Cheltenham Gold Cups, in 2007 and 2009.

The French-bred star was fallible - winning 19 of his 31 starts after arriving at Ditcheat in late 2004 - but his ability to bounce back made him a darling of the racing public.

He had something of a love/hate affair with Cheltenham, winning just twice from seven visits - all at the Festival - but those two successes carved a place in the history books for 'King Kauto'.

Queen Mother credentials fall down

Kauto Star won four hurdles races in his native France before making the move to Nicholls' Ditcheat base in the summer of 2004, having been snapped up by owner Clive Smith.

He debuted that Christmas at Newbury in a novices' chase over 2m2½f under Ruby Walsh and they won impressively, however, Nicholls took a softly-softly approach with Kauto Star and he was not present at the Cheltenham Festival of 2005.

Instead, his breakout performance came at Sandown that December when he won the Tingle Creek Chase in hands of Mick Fitzgerald.

It was straight to Cheltenham afterwards. A fresh horse, Kauto Star was sent off 2/1fav to win the Queen Mother Champion Chase for Nicholls/Walsh in '06, but he fell at the third fence, ensuring his first Cotswolds experience was not a happy one.

Kauto Star's Gold Cup record

YearFinishing Position
20071st
20082nd
20091st
2010Fell
20113rd
2012Pulled Up

The season of perfection

When in 2006 a £1m 'bonus' was put on offer for any horse that could win Britain's Triple Crown of staying chases - the Betfair Chase at Haydock, Kempton's King George and the Cheltenham Gold Cup - it appeared a fanciful notion to many, though clearly not for Kauto Star.

He won the Old Roan at Aintree on his comeback before taking out Haydock's big winter Grade 1, leaving Beef Or Salmon flailing in his wake that afternoon.

Showcasing his amazing versatility, barely two weeks later Kauto Star dropped back to two-miles and won a second Tingle Creek, defeating what would turn out to be that season's Champion Chaser Voy Por Ustedes in clear-cut style.

On to Boxing Day at Kempton where the King George was won by eight-lengths, despite clattering the final fence (something that became a trait in the first half of his career).

He would scramble home to win a Grade 2 at Newbury in February before rocking up as the 5/4fav for the Gold Cup and his shot at the £1m Bonus and redemption for his Cheltenham fall a year earlier.

Under Walsh, Kauto Star took control from three out and led over the second last. Once more, it was heart in mouth stuff at the last, but he got to the other side and won by 2½-lengths from Exotic Dancer to secure the Gold Cup, the £1m payout and a stunning unbeaten six-race season that included four Grade 1s from distances of 2m-3m2f.

A proper 'Star' performance. He remains the only horse to complete the Triple Crown (and on four more occasions he bagged two of the three races in the same season).

Clashing with his next-door neighbour

The 2007/08 season saw Kauto Star again winning Betfair Chase, narrowly from Exotic Dancer, and the King George before he dropped to 2m5½f in February to win a Grade 1 around Ascot in his only career appearance at that particular track.

All roads led to Cheltenham once more, but Kauto Star now had a major rival emerging hoping to steal his Gold Cup crown. That rival was Denman - also trained by Nicholls and living in the box right next to Kauto Star in Ditcheat.

Their would-be rivalry put racing in the spotlight like rarely before or since, as these next door neighbours prepared to battle for the biggest prize in their sport.

Come that March afternoon in '08 and Denman was peerless. He earned his moniker as 'The Tank' with a swashbuckling effort, taking up the running with a circuit to go and bludgeoning the finish from his rivals.

Kauto Star was under the pump from a long way out and, in the circumstances, did remarkably well to battle on and get second ahead of another Nicholls runner, Neptune Collonges, in a photo-finish.

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Making history in the Blue Riband

The defeat by Denman knocked him back and it was followed by an agonising nose-defeat to Our Vic at Aintree a few weeks later.

A Grade 1 win at Down Royal kick-started the 2008/09 season, but more woe was soon to follow, unseating Sam Thomas at the final fence when going for a Haydock hat-trick in the Betfair Chase in November.

He did complete his King George treble on Boxing Day, though not without a scare at the last, and from there it was straight to Cheltenham in March 2009 and a rematch with Denman.

No horse had ever won the Cheltenham Gold Cup, lost it and regained it, but Kauto Star was blissfully unaware of the stats.

Knocked about by Denman in '08, it was a different story 12 months on as Walsh and Kauto Star stalked every more made by the defending champion. They went to the front three-out and gallant as Denman was, he had no answer this time and would finish 13-lengths behind in second spot.

History was made by Kauto Star as he regained his Cheltenham Gold Cup – a feat as yet unmatched.

The fond farewell tour

He would run three more times in the Blue Riband without success. The crown slipped in 2010 when he came down three out as Imperial Commander went on to repel Denman.

In 2011, it was young upstart Long Run that ran the legs from the two great superstars as Denman and Kauto finished second and third.

A month later, Kauto Star was pulled up by Ruby Walsh in the Punchestown Gold Cup and many outsiders were calling for Nicholls and owner Smith to retire him.

Aged 11, those closest to him felt Kauto Star retained his spark and he came back for the 2011/12 season, though with a point to prove.

Few could have predicted the underscore he was about to add to his stellar career. At Haydock that November, he turned back the clock to defeat Long Run and win his fourth Betfair Chase, bringing down the house on Merseyside when he did.

A month later, and he again downed Long Run when relieving Nicky Henderson's star of his King George crown, an incredible fifth win in the Boxing Day showpiece for the King of Kempton.

From there it was back to Cheltenham and his sixth straight appearance in the Gold Cup - quite the feat in itself. He went off second-choice in the betting in his quest to regain the mantle for an extraordinary second time, but it was not to be.

Up with the pace early, Kauto Star's enthusiasm for the task waned by half-way and he began to drop back through the pack.

This superstar of the jumps game wasn't going to be allowed toil in front of the Cheltenham crowd and Walsh pulled him up instantly - whereupon the mighty Kauto Star was giving a rousing ovation from the packed Cheltenham grandstands - his place in Festival folklore long since assured.

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