Kauto Star 'almost certain' for Gold Cup
It would be churlish to complain that little could be learned from Kauto Star's spin round Wincanton. Merely by stretching his legs in public, the cherished veteran was able to lend substance to optimism that has been gathering over recent days.
And while naturally not asked to do a great deal by Ruby Walsh, a week before the Gold Cup, he exuded such enthusiasm that Paul Nicholls felt able to declare: "I think we'll be fine now."
After a schooling fall two weeks ago, the champion trainer was rating his dual Gold Cup winner only "50-50" to line up on Friday. He was much happier, however, after watching Kauto Star bounding up the straight alongside Mon Parrain.
"Just what I wanted to see," Nicholls said. "Ruby could hardly hold him, or pull him up at the end. And the horse looks fantastic. For everyone's sake, I hope he's okay the next few days. But I'd say he's almost certain to be there now. Last weekend we were touch-and-go. But the improvement has been unbelievable."
Kauto Star's last major test awaits on Monday, in another schooling session. "He's moving well and in good spirits," Walsh declared. "He did enough -- you can't do too much a week before the Gold Cup -- but he showed he's up for it. He's alive and well!"
Nicholls, meanwhile, missed out on seeing two winners before he arrived to prepare Kauto Star for the gallop -- and he also chalked one up at Sandown, Gwanako, for a 30/1 treble.
Neither Oscarslad nor Opening Batsman had shown enough promise over hurdles to suggest they are likely successors to the champion, but there is likely to be improvement from each over fences.
Oscarslad (6/1), disappointing in three novice starts, battled a length and a quarter clear of Black Phantom in the staying handicap hurdle.
Daryl Jacob rode him, while Walsh helped Opening Batsman (11/4) break his duck by the same distance in the Worthingtons Novices' Hurdle.
Nicholls' assistant Harry Fry said of Oscarslad: "He's had another year strengthening up and he showed out there in a war of attrition that he'll stay further. He'll be a chaser next season.
"(Opening Batsman) is a similar sort of horse to the first one -- a chaser for next season. He's a great stamp of a horse for first-time owners."
Gerard Tumelty's mount Headly's Bridge was just run down by Opening Batsman but the rider put things right when driving Dream Performance (4/1) five lengths clear in the next. (© Independent News Service)
Gold Cup, Coral bet: 7/4 Long Run, 7/2 Kauto Star, 6/1 Grands Crus, 7/1 Burton Port, 9/1 Synchronised, 10/1 Midnight Chase, Quel Esprit, 12/1 Weird Al, 20/1 bar.