Published 20/01/2011 | 05:00
Even now, five days after the King George VI Chase -- won so emphatically by Long Run -- Kauto Star remains the main talking point.
Yesterday, Paul Nicholls revealed that post-race blood tests on his star chaser showed up inflammation and a low-grade infection and while it is hard to quantify what effect this would have had on Kauto Star on Saturday, it would help explain why he had a small bleed from a nostril when he returned to his Ditcheat stable that evening.
Nicholls, who was unable to disguise his annoyance at those who have called for the 11-year-old to be retired, said he was pleased that something had come out.
"I'm glad there is a little reason for his run," he said. "It was a very disappointing run, we thought going into the race we'd win, but, had he not belted the second-last, he'd have been second.
"I'll do the best thing for Kauto and if we have any inclination that he's on a downward scale or he's not enjoying it, of course we'll call it a day. He might not win the Gold Cup, but I'm sure he'll run a good race if we get him back to his best."
Kauto Star has officially dropped 16lbs from a rating of 190 to 174 and sixth position in the chase rankings in the 55 weeks since he won the 2009 King George by 36 lengths. He is now behind Imperial Commander, Long Run, Denman, Master Minded and the late Twist Magic.
Indicating he thought 190 a false high because they had gone so fast in the race (in 2009) and Kauto Star had merely outstayed the others, Nicholls does not believe there is any great decline. "I've read some complete nonsense from people who don't know him," he said.
"What's he going to do when he's retired? If you sent him to someone to hack he'd be back in a few days because they wouldn't be able to ride him. He's in good order and we'll retire him when we think it's right."
Nicky Henderson's Finian's Rainbow, meanwhile, had little more than a glorified schooling session to win at Newbury yesterday and the gelding will have one more run before Cheltenham.
Henderson has his eyes firmly on the Irish Independent Arkle Trophy in March, believing Finian's Rainbow is a specialist two-mile chaser, despite having taken a staying route over hurdles which culminated in a fifth-placed finish behind Peddlers Cross at last year's Festival.
His introduction over fences at Newbury in November featured extravagant leaps interspersed with shaky mistakes and he was again too bold at a couple yesterday before finding his feet.
Tail Of The Bank was the only one capable of making a contest of it, but he was beginning to lose touch when falling at the third-last. Finian's Rainbow was eased down to still finish 51 lengths clear of Babysitter and maintain his position at the head of the Arkle betting.
"I suppose the Kingmaker at Warwick or the Pendil at Kempton would be races to look at. Barry (Geraghty) said just wait and see how he jumps in better ground," said the trainer.
Henderson had made giant inroads into the lead of defending champion trainer Nicholls with his five-timer at Kempton over the weekend, but the title-holder managed to inflict some minor revenge in the juvenile hurdle.
Henderson saddled the 1/2 favourite Titan De Sarti, but he was no match for Nicholls' latest French recruit, Cedre Bleu (100/30), which galloped 10 lengths clear.
Quotes quickly came through from bookmakers for the Triumph Hurdle, but Nicholls looked at Cedre Bleu, which is built like his giant Gold Cup-winning stablemate Denman, and said: "He's not that sort of horse -- he's a chaser for next autumn.
"You only have to look at the size of him. He won't do much this season, maybe a run or two more at somewhere like here again."
Two more winners came Henderson and Geraghty's way, firstly when Kerada (5/4), which had shown a useful level of form over hurdles, made a smooth transition to fences in the Mares Novices Chase. Tour D'Argent (10/11 favourite) then overcame evident inexperience in the concluding bumper.
Radetsky March attempted to replicate his recent front-running success at Huntingdon, but Robert Thornton always had him in his sights and 11/8 favourite Pride In Battle slogged two and a half lengths clear. (© Daily Telegraph, London)