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double vision

If Kauto Star's performance in Saturday's Betfair Chase didn't warm the cockles of your heart, well, then I'm afraid nothing involving a racehorse or the sport ever will.

To see the dual Gold Cup winner put cries of retirement to bed with an exuberant and flawless round of jumping from the front, break the track record and lift the roof off Haydock's grandstand was simply incredible.

The emotion of the whole event was Cheltenham-esque, the reception was beyond anything seen at the country track before, and that could even be said before Kauto Star had won his 18th race.

Paul Nicholls made no secret about the fact that Kauto Star was as ready for Saturday as he would be for a race ever again. It was his Gold Cup. Immense credit has to be given to the trainer who silenced those who suggested retirement for fear of humiliation.

Despite standing in the grandstand and watching the apple of his eye pull up in the Punchestown Guinness Gold Cup last May, Nicholls still had faith that the 11-year-old had another day in him. He was spot on.

Kauto Star did more for racing on Saturday than any well-paid marketing guru could ever do. In fact, he was so impressive, there wasn't even need for the whip debate to rear its extremely ugly head.

Kauto and Ruby have been through a lot in the last few years, and the rider admitted Saturday had ranked highly on the emotion stakes, but as impressive as the horse was, his partner gave a copybook performance too.

Walsh dictated the pace like only few could, and the pair had King George and Gold Cup winner Long Run off the bridle down the back straight.

With just his right hand on the reins and his left ready to use his stick on landing, watching the pair take off at the last fence was like poetry in motion.

"It was fantastic and wonderful to be there," reiterated Walsh yesterday at Punchestown.

"I watched it a few times last night and again this morning and I didn't realise the time he did and the distance he pulled away from the back of the last. He really opened up and it was fantastic as you always wondered wether there be one more big day in him."

Like Nicholls, Walsh wasn't looking to future targets, such as a possible fifth win in the King George. He was just overjoyed, and a touch relieved that one of his favourite horses, who he describes as "a privilege to ride", bounced back and proved the critics wrong.

"Paul had him revved up, there was no rustiness, he was ready for yesterday. Paul never doubted him and felt he could get him back and he's done that," Walsh told the Evening Herald.

"Emotionally it was very different, a lot of people were wondering would it be his last day and the crowd really got behind him.

"This time last year I was on my couch feeling sorry for myself, so what happens at Christmas ... I just want to be there."

Saturday was just the first leg of a Grade One double for the jockey, who partnered the Willie Mullins-trained Thousand Stars to an all-the-way success in the Ladbrokes.com Morgiana Hurdle at Punchestown yesterday.

Yesterday's feature was dealt a blow with the midweek withdrawal of Champion Hurdle hero Hurricane Fly, but that didn't prevent a record crowd turning up to see Mullins and Walsh's able deputy land the spoils in impressive fashion. The smashing grey was a somewhat insulting price of 3/1 earlier in the week, but having been proven in top quality races before over a full range of distances, he was sent off a much more likely 5/4 favourite and held Oscars Well by five-and-a-half lengths.

It was yet another winner for Mullins who ended the day with a four-timer and has trained 12 winners at the last four Irish meetings, which, even by his standards, is quite amazing.

Of Thousand Stars, Walsh said: "It's been a great couple of days.

"He had a lot in hand and had won over 3m1f and had the pace to be placed in good company over 2m and he's just a very good horse.

"He's been living in the shadow of Hurricane Fly since last year, but today he proved what a good horse he is.

"He's so versatile and a nice horse to own."


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