Kauto Star's rare talent a real privilege to witness
When this correspondent surmised in these pages on Saturday that Kauto Star might still have an inspirational performance in him, not for a moment did I envisage the sort of breathtaking display that he produced to claim a fourth Betfair Chase at Haydock.
Having been definitively out-pointed by Long Run at both Kempton and Cheltenham last term, to these eyes another gallant effort to be second or third constituted inspirational.
Instead, we were treated to one of the most comprehensive rounds of steeplechasing you could possibly wish to see -- a triumph of class, athleticism and sheer guts that moved Paul Nicholls to describe the day as one of the proudest in his career.
The Somerset handler's Denman has twice turned in exhilarating weight-carrying exhibitions in November's Hennessy Gold Cup at Newbury, but occasions of such heroic magnitude are usually the preserve of Cheltenham in March or Aintree in April.
Of course, part of the reason for the incredible response that Kauto Star triggered in denying the Gold Cup winner can be attributed to an element of surprise, and the standing ovation that he received before Saturday's Grade One added to the sense that it might well have been a last hurrah.
If it were going to be that, Ruby Walsh, knowing that Nicholls had tightened every screw, seemed intent on ensuring that absolutely nothing would be left behind. The jockey's purpose became patently clear at the outset, as did the fact that he had a brilliantly willing and able partner.
Walsh served it up to the young pretenders right from the start, and Kauto proceeded to fence with the exuberance of a horse half his 11 years of age.
By the midway point he had the opposition on its knees, not least Long Run, which simply couldn't cope as the former champion stole lengths at every fence through the third quarter of the race. The writing was on the wall then, because if there is one thing that Kauto has embodied ever since he dug deep to grind out that unlikely second to Denman in the 2008 Gold Cup, it is an undying courage. Here, as ever, that much was confirmed.
Energised by the roar of the Liverpool crowd, Kauto Star actually came up out of Walsh's hands at the last fence to seal a victory that will live long in the memory.
It was a stirring moment all on its own, one that confirmed the old truism about the permanence of class and form's ultimate insignificance.
In winning his 15th Grade One, Kauto Star broke the track record, knocked 10 seconds off his own previous best in the race and set the jumps season alight by reminding us once more of what a privilege it has been to witness such a rare talent.
Never has it felt so right to be so wrong.
Master to join Kauto
on King George trail
Master Minded ran out a game winner of Ascot's Amlin 1965 Chase for a second successive year under Daryl Jacob on Saturday. Representing Kauto Star's owner-trainer partnership of Clive Smith and Paul Nicholls, the two-time champion chaser was bouncing back to form after an odds-on reversal at Aintree on his reappearance.
He and the three-length runner-up Somersby are now in line for a showdown with Kauto Star in the King George, when both horses will be trying three miles for a first time.
Long Run remains the market leader for the Kempton showpiece at odds of 13/8 despite his Haydock defeat, followed by Kauto Star (11/2) and Master Minded (6/1).
of the weekend
Paul Nicholls produced Kauto Star in stellar shape to recapture the glory days at Haydock. He said beforehand that he had left no stone unturned in preparing the horse, and how right he was.
In the process, Nicholls, whose unerring judgment has underpinned the Kauto Star legend, validated his staunchly held belief that it would have been premature to retire the horse after he flopped at Punchestown in May.
Ride of the weekend
Jason Maguire has been at the top of his game since returning from injury, and executed a beautiful front-running steer on Overturn in the Coral Hurdle at Ascot. The contest may still have been in the balance when Oscar Whisky crashed at the last, but it was Maguire's relentless pressing that had the favourite in trouble in the first place.
3 The amount of tracks that 16-year-old Brendan Powell rode at on Saturday. Chauffeured by his father and namesake, he finished second in an Ascot chase, rode a hurdles winner at Huntingdon, before finishing unplaced on the all-weather at Wolverhampton.
"Racingforchange are you watching, it's not gimmicks we need it's good horses! Fantastic day to be involved in, well done to all at @PFNicholls"
-- On a day when Kauto Star trended on Twitter, trainer Don McCain, who contributed a fine double himself, tells it as it is on Saturday.