Saturday, December 31, 2011

Kauto Star, Superstar

--Gary King

It's very difficult, and ultimately unfair to compare horses across different generations. Who really knows if a modern great such as Sea The Stars would have beaten a past legend like Nijinsky II. At the end of the day, it’s almost impossible to remain objective and very often the heart rules the head--for me more than most. However, this is often where the beauty lies.

In my opinion, Kauto Star is the finest National Hunt racehorse of my generation. For those of you who don’t know, Kauto Star won his fifth G1 King George VI Chase at Kempton in Britain, Dec. 26.

Kauto Star is what jump racing is all about. The sport remains extremely popular in Britain and Ireland, and has the ability to make the front pages--highlighted in Friday's TDN. It appears to be part of the social fabric, with the perception being that the smaller owner/breeder has a greater chance of competing against the game’s biggest players. Eight out of ten people on the street in Britain and Ireland would be able to name a jumper, with Kauto Star being the public’s favorite.

He is a unique animal, and his talent shows no signs of abating as he nears the ripe old age of 12. His record breaking achievement at Kempton tops an illustrious career, which also includes two G1 Cheltenham Gold Cups, two G1 Tingle Creeks and four G1 Betfair Chases. I can’t even begin to fathom what this would translate to on the flat. Let’s just say it’s unprecedented.

It has been a privilege to witness Kauto’s remarkable exploits since his unveiling in 2003. His lifetime record of 40-23-7-4 is testament to his ability and remarkable consistency. Denman, Imperial Commander and Long Run have all challenged and briefly surpassed, but none of these horses have been able to match Kauto’s sustained class.

Kauto possesses an extraordinary combination of attributes, something that is rarely seen in the jumping sphere. He has all the quality of a flat horse, combined with the gritty determination and will-to-win of an old fashioned chaser. He did miss a few fences in his younger days, but his jumping has generally been top-notch over the years.

Kauto Star                   

Long Run got the upper hand in last season’s G1 Cheltenham Gold Cup, and may well get his head in front again in March. The steep climb to finish and left-handed track should play to the strengths of the young pretender. However, it would take a brave man to back against the rejuvenated Kauto Star. Many people had written him off, including myself, after he failed to sparkle in a disappointing campaign last season. However, like all great champions Kauto showed that he had a couple of big fights left in him. Could he possibly have a few more up his sleeve?

Time nor tide waits for no man/horse, and the day will come when Kauto Star no longer reigns supreme. He will be replaced and other great horses will go on to challenge his records, and maybe even eclipse them. However, it's extremely unlikely that I will ever see the likes of him again.

Thanks for the memories, Kauto. It has been a privilege.


Anonymous said...

Thank you for bringing this horse to the readers of this blog. He is a remarkable animal. What does this have to say to American racing? Forty starts, still sound, and with a fair amount of linebreeding in his pedigree; conditioning would seem to be the difference maker comparing Kauto Star to American Thoroughbreds. Do yo know how these horses are trained, and could you relay that?

Gary said...

He sure is. There is not a huge difference between training jumpers and flat horses in Europe. Fitness is achieved in pretty much the same manner, but jumpers are schooled over fences every so often--especially after a poor jumping performance. They are also turned out to paddock a lot more often, which is probably good for their mental state. I'm not sure if any of this promotes and improves soundness, though. Who is to say the top flat horses couldn't run forty times, if given the opportunity?

Mark Cramer said...

Thanks for the article on Kauto Star. Jump racing is not only big in Britain and Ireland but also here in France, where it gets equal attention to flat racing and trotting.
Above all, it thrives because the players support it with their action. I think American players would love it if they had the chance, but we'd probably need wider tracks with greater circumference.
Back here, most jumpers are Thoroughbreds and some of them participate in both jump and flat racing.
According to a breeder I interviewed, it's not so simple that a jump runner needs stamina. He told me they also need some sprint pedigree, since they need to accelerate after each hurdle.
France's most important jump racing track is Auteuil, easily reachable by Paris metro, and that's where Ernest Hemingway used to play the horses in the early 1920s.
Kauto Star began his career in France as a hurdler, where he won 5 of 10 hurdle races, before crossing the Channel and specializing in steeple-chase.

Gary said...

Thanks Mark. The French-bred National Hunt horses have done very well recently. They are usually a little quicker to hand than their British/Irish counterparts--highlighted by Kauto Star. Jump racing is definitely not all about stamina. It's important, but a high-cruising speed is also needed. Kauto Star is blessed with both.

Ralph said...

It would be terrific to think 80% of the British and Irish public could name a NH horse, but I suspect, and I'm fairly certain about this as far as the UK is concerned, this is a dramatic exaggeration. Only those of a certain age could even tell you who Red Rum or Desert Orchid were.