CHAMPION trainer Paul Nicholls will not be the only one with split loyalties as a select field gallops to the first fence in Boxing Day’s King George VI Chase.
So, too, will Clive Smith – the businessman fortunate enough to own stablemates Kauto Star and Master Minded, two of steeplechasing’s all-time greats who clash for the first time today in their stellar careers.
Yet bloodstock agent Anthony Bromley, the man who discovered these two illustrious horses in France, can go further. He is also credited with purchasing Long Run, the reigning King George and Cheltenham Gold Cup victor whose colours were lowered so staggeringly by Kauto Star in last month’s Betfair Chase.
At least Bromley has a better chance of victory than most as steeplechasing’s ‘big three’ race each other for the first – and probably – only time, though Richard Johnson on the well-backed Captain Chris could cause an upset.
Bromley runs Highflyer Bloodstock with his long-standing friend David Minton. Their priority is to source the best horses for their many wealthy clients, and these include Long Run, Kauto Star and Master Minded.
Their extensive network of contacts across the English Channel attempt to inform them of bright prospects.
But it is no guarantee that Bromley backs the right horse, as last year’s King George proved when Kauto Star tried – and failed – to win the race for an improbable fifth successive time as Long Run prevailed for owner Robert Waley-Cohen and his amateur rider son Sam.
“Last year I picked Kauto Star and got that wrong. I’m really not a very good tipster,” Bromley admits. “I think the betting has got it just about right, but the Master Minded angle is a fascinating one.
“Possibly Long Run and Kauto Star want a stamina test, Master Minded will probably want a speed test, and with those two fighting it out at the front it may leave the hope that Master Minded could come through at the second-last or the last.
“I’m not quite sure Master Minded will stay, but I would have thought it’s worth a shot.
“I always thought he could be a King George horse when Kauto Star was finished, but, of course, Kauto hasn’t finished yet.”
Bromley has been impressed with the way the veteran Kauto Star has bucked the recent historical trend of French recruits burning out relatively young.
“It’s interesting,” he says. “In the modern-day era it started with a lot of (Martin) Pipe horses.
“Generally they had quite a good value but they’d had a lot of mileage in France at three and four before they came, so they did things as five-year-olds very quickly and shone brightly at five and six. It wasn’t just French horses, but it was because of the way they were trained at the time.
“I’ve been buying horses from France since 1997, and one of the first was Makounji for Robert-Waley-Cohen. We often bought a different kind of horse, we bought ones on the way up and they have gone to trainers who have nurtured them.
“The likes of Paul Nicholls and Nicky Henderson with Long Run have brought out the best in them.”
Bromley is astonished by Kauto Star’s consistency at the top. With career earnings in excess of £2m, this is the only NH horse to have won two separate Grade One prizes – the King George and Betfair Chase – on four occasions.
Add in two Cheltenham Gold Cups, and a Tingle Creek over two miles, and that is why many regard Kauto Star as the best chaser since Arkle and superior to Desert Orchid, another four-times King George hero whose jumping feats brought so much Christmas cheer to many.
“I think it’s different in this day and age, as there are no easy races any more and the programme is such that every race has to be a Grade One,” added Bromley.
“In the days of Wayward Lad in the 80s, he’d have had three or four penalty kicks in little races all over the place, probably half-fit and had a lovely time before Christmas.
“It’s harder now on a horse. Kauto Star must be fit for every run and it’s amazing how they’ve kept him going. To think he’s going in his sixth King George – it’s quite astounding.”