RUBY Walsh led the tributes to "a horse of a lifetime" following the news that record-breaking chaser Kauto Star was retired by connections yesterday.
The dual Gold Cup winner, who in 2009 became the first horse to retain that crown having lost it the previous year, was one of the greatest jump horses since the legendary Arkle.
Kildare native Walsh was Kauto Star's regular partner in 27 of his 31 starts when trained by Paul Nicholls -- the pair winning 17 of them.
Walsh said: "I'm very lucky to be the one who got to ride him. He was an incredible horse from the beginning, from when he won his novice chase in Newbury all the way to his fifth King George."
Kauto Star left Haydock in raptures when he returned to top form to beat Long Run by eight lengths at odds of 6/1 and then followed that up with the final win of his career, the record-breaking fifth King George at Kempton last December.
Paul Nicholls said following the announcement: "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) were of the opinion that the time had arrived to retire him."
Nicholls repelled calls to retire Kauto Star on many occasions, most notably after he pulled up in the Punchestown Gold Cup of last year, but in recent weeks the trainer had given the vibes that the career of his stable star could be about to end.
He added: "Don't get me wrong, Kauto looks and feels as vibrant as ever, as those who saw him at our owners' Open Day last month would testify to.
"He was mad fresh that day and continues to be as alert as ever and very, very well in himself. But I suspect Kauto will be like that when he is 20 years old.
"Deep down, we know he has done enough -- and in some ways I think we have to protect him from himself.
"And maybe ourselves, too. If he did go to Kempton and win or run well, would we really want to run him -- or be able to resist the temptation -- in the Gold Cup? I am not so sure."
Walsh continued: "He's got me to places I didn't think I'd ever be. He was just an incredible horse."
Walsh famously settled for second place in the 2008 Gold Cup when sticking with Kauto Star instead of jumping ship to partner eventual winner Denman, and of the 17 races the pair did win together 15 were in Grade Ones.
"A couple of Gold Cups, Betfair Chases, five King Georges, Tingle Creeks -- he did everything. He was an amazing horse to ride and an amazing horse to be part of and I loved every minute of riding him. He was a wonderful horse to be riding and a wonderful horse to have in your life."