THE death of legendary steeplechaser Kauto Star following injuries sustained in a freak fall in a paddock are even more poignant because he was genuinely the horse of a lifetime who lit up National Hunt racing with his heart-stopping jumping.
The records speak for themselves. A dual Cheltenham Gold Cup winner, and the only horse in history to regain steeplechasing’s blue riband race, this horse won 23 of his 41 career starts including 16 races at the highest level. Five of his most famous wins were in the King George VI Chase, the traditional centre-piece of the Boxing Day racing programme.
And it speaks volumes about the extent to which the Paul Nicholls-trained stable star transcended racing that he was cheered by the Cheltenham faithful when pulled up in the 2012 Gold Cup, the champion’s final race before a retirement that was cut short in tragic circumstances.
It appears the 15-year-old Kauto Star injured himself in a paddock at the home of dressage rider Laura Collett who was looking after the horse following owner Clive Smith’s acrimonious falling out with champion trainer Paul Nicholls.
“I am devastated. He had been turned out in Laura’s paddock, as has been the case normally with him at this time for years, and he looks to have jumped something, and perhaps stumbled, we’re not really sure, but he injured himself – and it became obvious it was serious,” said Smith.
“It became increasingly apparent the injuries were too serious and that it was in the horse’s interests to be put down. The onset of secondary problems, pneumonia and laminitis, highlight the challenges faced when treating serious injuries in horses.”
Smith hailed Kauto Star as the “complete racehorse”, adding: “When I saw him, he was lying there and I fed him some grass and stroked him and tried to spend the last few minutes with him.”
Understandably, the world of racing was united in sorrow – and tribute. The aforementioned Nicholls paid tribute to “a horse of a lifetime” who was versatile over so many distances. “I’m obviously mortified,” he added. “He was like my best mate really. He was a great horse in every way temperament-wise. Even after he was written off, to come back and win his fourth Betfair Chase and a fifth King George said everything about him.”
Regular big race rider Ruby Walsh said: “He was without a doubt the best chaser I’ve ever ridden. I’ll never ride one as good as him again. Kauto, very simply, was one of the greatest jump horses in history.”
And this eloquent tribute came from rival jockey Tom Scudamore who said. “I remember the King George in 2009, Kauto Star won by a record 36 lengths and I came second on Madison Du Berlais and I remember watching him when he went past and thinking ‘I’ve never seen a horse go so well and run so easily’, it was an amazing sight,” he said.