Kauto in rude health for King George bid -- Nicholls
Paul Nicholls must wish that Kempton Park's King George VI Chase was next week -- weather permitting of course.
Kauto Star -- attempting a record fifth win in the St Stephen's Day feature -- looked in rude health as he paraded for the cameras at Manor Farm Stables at Ditcheat yesterday. This horse is a star, not just in name, and he knows it.
Anybody who entertains the notion that horses are unaware of their status has never been in the company of Clive Smith's champion.
This 10-year-old gelding loves the limelight, so much so that he allowed camera crews, photographers and media men bearing microphones into his box. And there was never an anxious moment.
Kauto Star dominates the betting on the King George, with sponsors William Hill still making him 11/8 favourite, with 7/1 offered about Long Run, 8/1 Imperial Commander -- which must recover from a cut leg he suffered when winning the Betfair Chase last month -- and 10/1 Forpadydeplasterer.
If Nicholls has a trouble-free run with the gelding, another historic chapter seems certain to be written. Provided there are no dramas, Kauto should be even-money, or shorter.
"He has done plenty of work and we are exactly where we want to be with him," Nicholls explained. "Clive and I decided the King George was the priority and his preparation has gone exactly as we wanted.
"As we saw last year, he improved from the Betfair Chase to the King George, and hopefully, he'll show the same improvement from Down Royal to the King George.
"I just hope the weather relents, but we've had no problems. We do our own salting, the all-weather gallop has been fine and he hasn't missed any work at all."
The gelding's regime will entail "work, and more work" according to his trainer, who considers this year's preparation for Kempton to be almost a replica of last year's successful build-up.
Kauto Star had been clipped the previous day, and Nichols marvelled at the chaser's skin. "I've never seen it better," he pointed out, which must augur well for the King George and, ultimately, the Gold Cup in March.
"After the King George he'll go straight to the Gold Cup," the champion trainer stated.
Nicholls believes that Kauto Star and his stablemate Denman may have only one more season left at the highest level. "Age is bound to catch up," he argued.
As for his other stable stars, champion staying hurdler Big Buck's will head for Ascot's Long Walk Hurdle on December 17 after winning at Newbury. If the weather claims Sandown's Tingle Creek Chase, Master Minded and Twist Magic could be diverted to Cheltenham the following weekend, if the Grade One contest is rescheduled at Prestbury Park.
Cheltenham's meeting is likely to feature Nicholls' promising novice Robinson Collonges in the December Gold Cup and the rampantly progressive Silviniaco Conti in the International Hurdle, with juvenile Sam Winner also set to reappear at the fixture.
Another talented novice heading to Cheltenham next week is Paul Webber's Time For Rupert, which made an impressive winning debut over fences at Prestbury Park three weeks ago.
That success under William Kennedy elevated Time For Rupert to 6/1 favourite for the RSA Chase at the Festival in March.
Webber is keen to give the six-year-old more experience as soon as possible and plans to hedge his bets by giving him an entry on Friday's card and one on the Saturday.
"The priority will be the extended three-mile-one-furlong novices' chase on the Saturday (the DRS Contracts Novices' Chase) and he will also have an entry in the Friday novices' chase over two miles and five furlongs (the Injured Jockeys' Fund Oaksey House Novices' Chase) in case of the weather," said Webber.
"He's in very good form. He has always jumped well at home and he loves going over fences, so we were hoping that he would run well at the Open.
"On his hurdles form, stepping up to beyond three miles will obviously suit and the ground doesn't seem to make too much difference. He loves Cheltenham, but we will take it one race at a time before making any big plans."
Meanwhile, Binocular is likely to bid to return to winning ways in the William Hill Christmas Hurdle at Kempton on St Stephen's Day.
Last season's Champion Hurdle hero is on course for a Christmas appearance after finishing third to Peddlers Cross in the re-arranged Fighting Fifth at Newbury on Saturday.
Nicky Henderson's charge will attempt to improve on his third place behind Go Native last December.
"He hurdled well at Newbury and ran well. He should come on for the run. Hopefully he'll go to Kempton next," said Frank Berry, racing manager to owner JP McManus. (© Daily Telegraph, London)