Bitterness as Kauto leaves Nicholls
One of jump racing's greatest owner/trainer relationships, that combined to celebrate every moment of Kauto Star's glorious career, has ended in acrimony.
The most famous chaser since Arkle left his box in Ditcheat after eight years amid tears and scenes of great emotion.
Owner Clive Smith and trainer Paul Nicholls effectively ended a partnership that had spanned nearly a decade when the five-time King George winner and twice Cheltenham Gold Cup hero boarded a horse box bound for a new career in the dressage arena.
Relations between Smith and Nicholls had been strained for some time, but matters came to a head when the owner announced plans for Kauto Star's post-racing career without apparently warning Nicholls.
The trainer interpreted this as the last straw and their relationship, which had also enjoyed outstanding success with two-mile chaser Master Minded, was finally rendered irreparable.
In a statement, Nicholls said: "It is with great sadness that I have to report that Kauto Star has left the yard for the last time. It has been no secret that Kauto's future has been a great source of debate since we announced his retirement.
"And, to be honest, this morning I felt the time had finally come for me to take control of the situation, and to start making the decisions. Now, I'm fully aware that Kauto is Clive's horse and he can do as he wishes, though I'd personally have loved Clifford (Baker) to have looked after him for the rest of his years.
"But what upset me and my team here is when Clive announced that he had spoken to experts about the horse's future – but failed to consult and listen properly to the team that had looked after him here for the past nine years. That really upset us.
"So, we had a team meeting and after listening to everybody involved, I rang up Clive and said I don't want to fall out, but we think it is in the best interests of everybody concerned to take Kauto to Yogi Breisner's this afternoon so that he could start his new career in the dressage field as soon as possible.
"Which we did with the saddest of hearts. But I like to think with a lot of dignity, too. And, yes, there were plenty of tears. He was a member of the family here at Ditcheat and we will all miss him so much."
Kauto Star will be assessed by Laura Collett, a European bronze medallist in eventing, and Britain coach Breisner in the coming weeks regarding his suitability for dressage.
Collett (22), who is an aspiring Olympian, said: "I feel privileged and extremely honoured to have been asked to ride Kauto Star. I will be working closely with Yogi to give Kauto Star the best chance of a second career in dressage."
Members of the Ditcheat team expressed their sadness at the development, with Nicholls' travelling head girl Donna Blake, tweeting: "Farewell to our dear Kauto Star, sad day that he is leaving those who genuinely care and respect him. Undeserved."
Smith said: "A lot of very good chasers have gone on to do very well at dressage, like Garrison Savannah and Neptune Collonges and I wanted him to have an interest. He's just too good to be a hack or to be out in a field. I wanted him to do something else. We'll know in a very short time (if it is a possible option)."
Neptune Collonges, this year's Aintree Grand National winner, and 1991 Cheltenham Gold Cup champion Garrison Savannah turned to dressage after successful careers in horseracing.
Smith had long resented Nicholls keeping Kauto Star at his yard at Ditcheat after the horse's retirement, especially when he learned that the trainer had been charging racing tourists, who visited the yard on a regular basis.
However, sources close to Nicholls said all proceeds had gone to charity, including the Air Ambulance, which was one of the trainer's preferred charities. (© Daily Telegraph, London)