By: Grant Fisken
Horse racing was hit with some sad news this week as two-time Cheltenham Gold Cup winner Kauto Star had to be put down. The 15-year-old suffered a fall in his paddock and sustained fractures to three bones in his pelvis and the base of his neck, leaving him unable to stand. Complications arising from the injuries led to the decision to euthanize the horse fondly known as “The King”.
Kauto Star began life in France and tasted victory for the first time in races over hurdles in Auteuil. He was bought by Clive Smith in 2004 for £285,000, a shrewd investment considering the horse would go on to bank nearly £2.4million in prize money over the next eight years. Smith placed Kauto in the hands of trainer Paul Nicholls, to signal the beginning of a legendary partnership.
The first sign of Kauto Star’s ability, and resilience, came in just his second run in Britain in January 2005. Starting as a 2/11 favourite in a three-horse field in the Weatherbys Bank Novices’ Chase at Exeter, Kauto was comfortably clear when he came down at the second-last. It allowed 20/1 Mistral De La Cour to go clear, but jockey Ruby Walsh remounted the favourite, without his riding irons, and nearly made up 20 lengths to come a short-head away from a miraculous victory.
After a 10-month injury lay-off following that eventful outing at Exeter, Kauto claimed the first of his 16 Grade One race victories, the 2005 Tingle Creek Chase. However, it was the 2006/07 season that was to really announce the horse as one of the greats. Six wins from six runs (four at Grade One level), including the 2006 King George VI Chase and the 2007 Cheltenham Gold Cup earned his owner a £1m bonus.
In 2009 he became the first horse to regain the Gold Cup, turning the tables on stablemate Denman who had edged Kauto the previous year. His final trophy haul would include five King George VI Chase wins and four Betfair Chase victories, but a third Gold Cup would prove elusive. His final appearance in the Cheltenham showpiece came in 2012, but carrying an injury into the race, he pulled up by halfway, to huge acclaim from the crowd probably sensing this was the end of an era.
Later in the year came the official retirement, but his sporting days were not quite over. Nicholls wanted to give Kauto an easy retirement, but Smith wanted him to pursue dressage. The disagreement saw Smith move Kauto to the yard of eventer Laura Collett in Lambourne where Kauto’s final fall took place.
Even three years after his retirement the tributes to Kauto Star in the past few days highlight what an effect the horse had on the racing public. Ruby Walsh, who rode him to 17 of his 19 wins in Britain and Ireland, perhaps summed up the general opinion by describing him as “a horse in a lifetime”.