PAUL NICHOLLS HAILED an ‘irreplaceable legend’ as Kauto Star, one of the finest national hunt horses in living memory, retired from racing.
Nicholls and owner Clive Smith met this morning and decided that their 12-year-old superstar, twice a winner of the prestigious Cheltenham Gold Cup and a five-time winner of the King George VI Chase, will not race again.
“The end of an era has finally arrived. Clive was here this morning and we have taken the decision to retire Kauto Star,” Nicholls wrote in his column for Betfair.com.
“We have had nine superb years with the horse but, after seeing him in his work these past few weeks, myself, Clifford [Baker, head lad] and Dan [Skelton, assistant trainer] were of the opinion that the time had arrived to retire him.”
“Of course, as owner, the final decision rested with Clive, but he agreed that the horse had done enough.”
Fittingly, Kauto’s racecourse farewell came at the Cheltenham Festival in March as he bid to make history as the first 11-year-old or older to win the blue riband prize in over 40 years.
Cheered on by thousands of fans decked out in his iconic green and yellow colours, there was to be no fairytale ending to a remarkable season in which he beat young pretender Long Run to win both the Betfair Chase and the King George at Kempton. Sent off the 3/1 second-favourite, Kauto never travelled and was pulled up by jockey Ruby Walsh.
“While it would have been brilliant to go out on a winning high,” Nicholls wrote this morning, “I don’t think anyone present at Cheltenham last March would view Kauto’s final appearance on a racetrack as a failure.
The spontaneous applause he got from the crowd when he was pulled up genuinely lifted the spirits of all the team here – and it is the team here, from Clifford down, and Clive, that made Kauto what he became – at what was a low moment.
Disappointment was immediately replaced by pride, and that is the overwhelming emotion I feel when looking at the horse.
The decision to retire the horse ultimately rested with Smith, Nicholls explained, praising the owner for making a “brave and difficult” call.
Delaying my honest take on the retirement question would have probably been just selfishness and stubbornness on my part too – the equivalent of a football manager desperately clinging on to his best, if ageing player – and sometimes you have to look to the future and at the bigger picture.
But at the end of the day Kauto is Clive’s horse, not mine. And he made the call this morning. And a brave and difficult one it would have been, too, so all credit to him.
He added: “Whatever the future holds, I am certain that Clive and all us here at Ditcheat will reflect on a magnificent past and I am sure we will both go on searching for the unattainable in the future.
“Namely, a horse to replace the irreplaceable legend that was, and is, Kauto Star.”