Nicholls sights set on Hennessy for Kauto
Kauto Star could be aimed at the Hennessy Gold Cup should all go well with his reappearance in the JNwine.com Champion Chase at Down Royal on Saturday.
Clive Smith's ace chaser, trained by Paul Nicholls, is among eight acceptors at the five-day stage for the Ulster feature, which he won in 2008.
Connections are, however, also keen to run the dual Cheltenham Gold Cup hero in a major handicap chase before he retires. The Newbury showpiece on November 27 fits the bill before the 10-year-old goes for a fifth successive win in the King George at Kempton.
"There is a little proviso (in heading straight to Kempton after Down Royal) in that we would like to have a crack maybe at the Hennessy, just as it might be his last season, and see how he goes," said Smith. "We want to race him four times probably, maybe five, but obviously always aiming at the King George and the Gold Cup. We'd still like to show he could do it in a big handicap, so we might go to the Hennessy. It just depends on Saturday really.
"He's not showing any sign of ageing. In another year he will be 11 going on to 12 and he's obviously got to be showing signs of age then, but he's certainly fine at this moment."
Kauto Star is the only possible raider from England for the Down Royal prize. Henry de Bromhead has left in Irish Independent Arkle Trophy victor Sizing Europe, whose recent Punchestown conqueror China Rock could renew rivalry. Michael Hourigan's Mossbank could have his first race since April 2008, while Finger Onthe Pulse, trained by Tom Taaffe, is another smart performer. Coolcashin, Killyglen and Trafford Lad complete a quality entry.
Saturday will be a crucial test for Kauto Star as it will be his first race since he suffered a bad fall in the Gold Cup in March. "He's much better in himself and he's survived Cheltenham very well. He's been out in the paddock and the fields during the summer, and everything is very good," Smith added.
"We've got him right, although you never quite know when they are coming back after the horrific kind of fall he had. He's been schooled and it's all gone well. He seems to have got over everything."
Smith's dual Queen Mother Champion Chase winner Master Minded will reappear in the Amlin 1965 Chase at Ascot on November 20.
Nicholls' seven-year-old lost his air of invincibility last season, despite winning Newbury's Game Spirit Chase in February. He was beaten on his seasonal debut at Cheltenham and was lacklustre when attempting to defend his crown at the Festival in March.
"Last year, he seemed to run a good race and then one not so good, but this time the lads in the yard say he feels better in himself," said Smith. "He looks very good this year and hopefully he'll have a better time of it. He starts in the Amlin Chase at Ascot over two miles, three furlongs and we'll see if he can really stay further than two miles."
Nicky Henderson's Riverside Theatre returned to action with an impressive display in the Weatherbys Graduation Chase at Kempton yesterday.
A fast-finishing fifth in the Arkle at Cheltenham, Nicky Henderson's six-year-old was sent off the 6/4 joint-favourite and Barry Geraghty settled the gelding behind the keen early pace set by Golan Way and Tatenen. Having eased to the front turning into the straight, Geraghty gave him an inch of rein to beat Free World by nine lengths, without being asked a question.
While bookies cut Riverside Theatre's price for the Paddy Power Gold Cup, Henderson said afterwards that the Peterborough Chase at Huntingdon on December 9 is the preferred option.
Ferdy Murphy's Kalahari King is set to kick off his winter campaign in the Mayfield Restaurant Chase at Kelso on Saturday. Last season's Queen Mother third will have to carry top weight in the limited handicap chase, but Murphy wants to get a run into the nine-year-old before the Peterborough Chase.
"He had a really good summer away and came back in looking a picture," said Murphy. "He's been back in 12 weeks. We're very happy with him and he looks great, but he will come on for the run."
Meanwhile, BHP Insurances Ltd and Leopardstown yesterday announced a new five-year deal that will see the company sponsor the Irish Champion Hurdle until 2015.
JNwine.com Champion Chase -- Paddy Power odds: 8/13 Kauto Star, 7/2 Sizing Europe, 6/1 China Rock, 16/1 Finger OnThe Pulse, Killyglen, 20/1 Trafford Lad, 33/1 Coolcashin, Moss Bank.