Smith cautious over Kauto's next move
Clive Smith is not allowing himself to be fooled by Kauto Star's perky demeanour in the run-up to the King George VI Chase at Kempton as he steels himself to make the toughest decision he has faced as an owner.
Smith has seen it all before with Kauto Star and knows that his brilliant performer's bright mood at home does not always translate into a sparkling performance on the racecourse.
Trainer Paul Nicholls has agreed with Smith to sit and wait as long as possible before deciding whether the gelding attempts to land an incredible fifth win in racing's main Christmas attraction.
"We're not going to say much (on the issue) to give ourselves every chance of making the right decision," said Smith.
"Kauto is in great shape. He's giving every sign that he has recovered well after (winning) the Betfair Chase, but we've seen that before. He's always got plenty of bounce about him at home, so it can be hard to tell.
"After he finished second to Denman in the Gold Cup (in 2008), he looked to be in great form at home yet he went to Aintree and was just beaten by Our Vic, which he should never have been (if he was at his best). The fact is that he had a hard race in the Gold Cup, yet he was bouncing a few days later."
One of the key factors being analysed by connections is how much Haydock's Betfair Chase, in which Kauto Star returned to his brilliant best to see off Gold Cup winner Long Run, really took out of him.
"He had a tough race that day and so did Long Run, by the way. The danger is, of course, that Kauto comes out again quickly and runs flat," said Smith.
"There is a possibility we might just hold on to him until the Gold Cup at Cheltenham in March. It is a tough decision and I'll be taking all the advice I can get."
Whatever the decision, Smith's familiar green, gold and purple colours will be carried in the King George by Master Minded. The gelding is 5/1 third favourite in ante-post betting behind Long Run (6/4) and Kauto Star (4/1).
"He has been aimed at the race for some time and we feel that he's better now than he was at Ascot last month (when winning)," said Smith.
Master Minded has never raced over further than two miles and five furlongs and never won over further than two and a half miles, but connections obviously do not have any stamina doubts regarding the three miles of the King George.
Meanwhile, David Pipe is intending to run Great Endeavour in the Spinal Research The Atlantic 4 Gold Cup at Cheltenham on Saturday.
The David Johnson-owned grey landed the Paddy Power Gold Cup last month and also ran a screamer when fourth to Carruthers in the Hennessy at Newbury as his stamina just ran out close home. He is due to return to two miles and five furlongs for this weekend's Prestbury Park feature, in which he finished second to Poquelin 12 months ago.
Pipe has also left in last Saturday's Tingle Creek fourth I'msingingtheblues, Matuhi, brought down in the Galway Plate when last seen, and Salut Flo, off the track for over 600 days. With Great Endeavour being given the green light, it means the first three from the Paddy Power will all meet again, as Ferdy Murphy's Divers (third) is on target along with runner-up Quantitativeeasing.
The latter, installed ante-post favourite, is more likely to represent Nicky Henderson than stablemate Nadiya De La Vega, a winner at Haydock on its recent seasonal return.
"Both of mine are JP's (owner JP McManus) and I would have thought only one of them will run and that is most likely to be Quantitativeeasing," said Henderson.
"He ran a great race in the Paddy Power and has been very well since. I could have done without him going up in the ratings but otherwise I am happy with the horse."
Irish raiders, last successful with Noel Meade's Sir Oj in 2005, have three chances -- the Dessie Hughes-trained Roberto Goldback, Willie Mullins' recent Naas winner Quel Esprit and Tom Taaffe's Finger Onthe Pulse, which landed the 2010 Galway Plate.
Quantitativeeasing is 11/2 with Stan James, while Quel Esprit has been supported in from 12/1 to 10/1. (© Daily Telegraph, London)