TRAINER Paul Nicholls insists Kauto Star still has “a great chance” of running in the Betfred Cheltenham Gold Cup on March 16.
The legendary 12-year-old gelding, twice a winner of steeplechasing’s top prize, is rated “50-50” for the Festival highlight after suffering a bad fall when schooling under Ruby Walsh.
Although his participation remains in the balance, Nicholls remains hopeful the Clive Smith-owned chaser can compete in a sixth successive Gold Cup.
The trainer reported his horse still to be stiff after physio and a canter yesterday – and no final decision on Kauto Star’s participation is expected until next weekend when he is due to complete his final major piece of work.
“He’s just a little stiff. You get a little older and take a little knock and it just takes a little bit to get over it,” said Nicholls.
“If you trotted him out today and paraded him you’d not think there was anything wrong. But the situation with him is that he needs to be at his very best to run.
“It’s getting better each day so we’re still hopeful – we’ve still got a fortnight. The big day will be a week Saturday when he does his last strong piece of work before the Gold Cup. He needs to thrill Clifford (Baker, Nicholls’s head lad). We’ve still got a great chance.”
Although Kauto Star has jumped more than 500 fences in a stellar career only surpassed by Arkle in post-war racing, horses are still regularly schooled before major races to keep them sharp.
Though the white-faced crowd favourite is still second favourite behind Long Run after beating the reigning champion twice this season, Nicholls remained perplexed by the aberration.
“He’s never fallen in his life schooling, but he just made an error and fell,” he added.
Mickael Barzalona, last year’s Derby-winning jockey on Pour Moi, will move to Newmarket in the spring after becoming a full-time member of the Godolphin team.
The 20-year-old Frenchman will now become part of Sheikh Mohammed’s roster of riders that incldues Frankie Dettori and Thirsk-based Silvestre de Sousa.
Even more revisions to the rules regarding the use of the whip are due to come into force on Tuesday to give jockeys a week to acquaint themselves with the changes before the Cheltenham Festival.
The BHA intends to finalise the latest alterations over the weekend.