Many steeplechasers have been described as ‘charismatic’ but, in the modern era, few, if any, have inspired the same level of enthusiasm and devotion as Kauto Star. On his return to the winners’ enclosure at Kempton after his fourth consecutive win in the King George VI Chase, on Boxing Day, 2009, he was greeted by four loud cheers from a crowd decorated in the green-and-yellow colours of his owner, Clive Smith. In fairness, the 9-year-old had just put in a superb round of jumping to beat erstwhile Hennessy Gold Cup winner Madison Du Berlais by 36 lengths – ‘magnificent’ was the word used in the in-running commentary in the Racing Post – so the attraction was, perhaps, understandable.
Indeed, two years later, in 2011, Kauto Star returned to Kempton to win the King George VI Chase for an unprecedented fifth time and, in so doing, avenge defeats by Long Run in the previous renewal, rescheduled for January, and the Cheltenham Gold Cup the previous March. Officially described as ‘awesome’, that performance proved to be the last win of his career.
However, in his younger days, Kauto Star had also won the Cheltenham Gold Cup twice. He was a winning favourite in the ‘Blue Riband’ event in 2007 and, after finishing second by stable companion Denman the following year, reversed the form, to the tune of 20 lengths, in 2009 to become the first horse ever to regain the Gold Cup.
Trained by Paul Nicholls and ridden, for most of his career in Britain, by Ruby Walsh, Kauto Star won 23 of his 41 starts and over £2,375,000 in prize money. He only actually fell or unseated rider three times in 31 starts, but wasn’t averse to the occasional monumental blunder, as when ‘breasting’ the final fence, with the race at his mercy, on his first attempt in the King George VI Chase in 2006. Sadly, though, after joining professional event rider Laura Collett on his retirement from racing in 2012, he sustained pelvic and neck injuries in a freak accident at her Windy Hollow Stables in Lambourn, Berkshire in 2015 and was humanely euthanised shortly afterwards.