Kauto Star in the running for Cheltenham after impressive outing delights Nicholls

THE iconic Kauto Star will attempt to win a historic third Cheltenham Gold Cup next week – provided the veteran shows no ill-effects from a racecourse gallop and passes a final piece of work on Monday.

Yet the steeplechaser’s connections could hardly contain their delight after the 12-year-old – a major Cheltenham doubt after suffering a heavy schooling fall a week ago – galloped alongside stablemate Mon Parrain after racing at Wincanton yesterday.

And while trainer Paul Nicholls wants jockey Ruby Walsh to school the 2007 and 2009 Cheltenham hero over fences on Monday, it is almost certain that Kauto Star – the most successful Grade One steeplechaser in the sport’s history – will line-up in a sixth competitive Gold Cup and bid to defeat last year’s victor Long Run.

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It’s also a major boost to the National Hunt Festival, four days of top-class action where North Yorkshire trainer Ferdy Murphy hopes to maintain his remarkable record of consistency at jump racing’s premier meeting.

“Ruby said he was very pleased and he did every bit as well as he expected. They went a little bit faster in the last half a mile and I thought he looked good. It’s all systems go,” said Kauto Star’s relieved owner Clive Smith.

Both Kauto Star and the highly-rated Mon Parrain went a steady gallop, with Walsh pushing to the front on the champion after half a mile.

The Daryl Jacob-ridden Mon Parrain came back up to join him turning for home and the pace upped a gentle notch down the straight, with the pair racing alongside each other.

Neither horse was asked any real questions and Kauto Star, who looked fresh and well in himself, passed the post around a head in front, although both horses were more or less in first gear throughout.

“I’m very, very pleased and Ruby said that he could hardly hold him. I didn’t want him to do too much but they quickened up a bit,” said Nicholls.

“If he’s all right tomorrow and schools on Monday, then I’d say we’re in business.

“I can’t tell you the difference between looking at him now and last Friday. It’s a phenomenal difference and it’s a huge relief because everyone can see if he’s in good or bad shape and he looked in really good order.

“He looks like he did before Haydock (Betfair Chase win) and the King George and he’s full of enthusiasm. He will jump two brush hurdles and a couple of brush fences on Monday morning and Ruby will come over to do it.”

Bookmakers Coral make Kauto Star their 7-2 second-favourite for the race, with Long Run the 7-4 market leader to repeat his 2011 performance.

Meanwhile Cheltenham will continue to water the chase and hurdle courses ahead of the opening day of the Festival on Tuesday.

With no rain in sight ahead of the four-day meeting, officials are keeping the taps turned on to ensure the best possible conditions.

And that could be good news for West Witton-based Murphy who has seven runners, four of which have outstanding each-way credentials.

“We’re looking forward to it though, and hopefully we’ll come back with a winner,” he said.

Behind the scenes at Ferdy Murphy’s yard: Page 10.