Category Archives: Jump racing

Kauto Star off to do dressage

Kauto Star has featured on the *header photo of this blog for a long while now, along with his regular rider Ruby Walsh. It therefore seems right to note that today was the day he left his longtime home of Ditcheat, with trainer Paul Nicholls and the man who has ‘done’ the Star for all these years, Clifford Baker.

The Twittersphere is all aflutter with the news: the manner in which the departure came about, the new career for the amazing horse we have loved for so long. It seems that the owner, Clive Smith and the trainer had some sort of difference of opinion and the planned departure to pastures new was brought forward to today. Apparently Clifford Baker’s daughter didn’t even get to say goodbye to King Kauto.

I suppose it’s a mini PR disaster for racing. Kauto Star has been the jewel in the crown of winter National Hunt racing for years. That the owner and the trainer should ‘fall out’ over the rest of his career is a shame. That career is nominally in dressage. They aren’t mucking around either, Kauto is going to be ridden by an Olympic hopeful rider and retrained by the great Yogi Breisner. Clive Smith says Kauto is ‘too good’ to be a hack, but what an earth does that mean? I would have been more on his wavelength if he said, ‘look the horse is only twelve and he needs to be kept busy – he’s that kind of horse.’ To me, it looks like an old guy giving a pretty young lady a lovely present, but I am old and unkind perhaps. Back on a more empirical footing, good dressage horses tend to be warmbloods, not thoroughbreds, the latter being too hot-blooded for the manege. I admit I am kind of hoping Kauto Star puts them all in their place, politely, over the next few months.

Running and jumping is the the boy for me he might say, if he could talk… Now, where’s my old neighbour Denman?

Denman out with some mates and new rider Charlotte Alexander from Horse & Hound

Click here for more of Denman’s Diary and a life after racing.

And here to see Kauto Star in his new home as of today. Good luck lad.

*I’ve been wondering if it’s time to change this for a while now, but I don’t think I’m ready yet.

‘Jumping off the edge of the world’: why Becher’s Brook must go

Let me be clear about this: watching Red Rum win (and come second) in Grand Nationals on black and white telly was my 1970s childhood. Red Rum was, along with Muhammed Ali, my sporting hero. And, because memory works in mysterious ways, I remember watching one, or the other, or both win, in black and white vision in the back room of my great-grandmother Walker’s little council house in Leicester; although I must’ve seen both of them elsewhere too. For me, the sport, my childhood and the family, the love of it all, are inextricably linked; so I can’t hate the Grand National.

Equally, these days, I can’t watch it. The reason being, that the statistics speak for themselves. I know, the odds are that horses will fall, and that from those falls, some horses will die.

I also know now, having looked at the Wikipedia statistics here, that horses are most likely to die in a fall at Becher’s Brook – the awkwardly-shaped fence that horses jump as obstacle number #6 and #22 and that jockeys have described as ‘jumping off the edge of the world.’

Of the 68 horse fatalities in 165 runnings of the race (and I think that 165 includes 3 runnings at Gatwick during the First World War), 15 horses have died in incidents that involved Becher’s Brook. That’s more than double the fatalities of the second most deadly fence (obstacle #4 & #20, that has no name) which has 7 fatalities associated with it. Becher’s Brook is unusual, not in its height of 5 feet – there are 6 others of 5 feet and the tallest, The Chair, is 5’2″, but because its landing side is so much lower than the take off (estimated to be between 6 and 10 inches lower). It was named after Captain Becher parted company with his horse, Conrad, at the obstacle in the first officially run Grand National in 1839. It is a fence designed, not just for jumping, but to catch horses out.

And it does.

And it must stop.

I have read people saying that, yesterday, Synchronised got up from his fall at Becher’s and galloped on, therefore his fatal injury cannot be attributed to the fence, just subsequent ill-luck in riderless running. I would say, how can we know? And then there is According to Pete who also died after being brought down at the same obstacle on the second circuit.

There are other changes, I am sure, that could, and perhaps should be made to the race. But the continued acceptance of a notorious and tricky fence that claims more horses’ lives than any other in the race is a disgrace. The statistic for Becher’s Brook is one that we, those who follow racing under either code, should not continue to stand for.

Captain Becher and Conrad came a cropper in the naming of the fence in 1839. In the one hundred and seventy-three years that have elapsed let us stand for progress, but primarily the welfare of the horse. Let the sad losses of According to Pete and Synchronised be the very last victims of Becher’s Brook.

I, for one, have had enough. Have you?


According to Pete

In praise of jockeys

I can’t let the Festival week end without noting the general workaday heroism of our jockeys, both jumps and flat. They often come in for a lot of stick (excuse the pun) and if you don’t ride you can have no idea of the physical demands made on their bodies every day, and that’s not including kicks and falls and wasting to make weight.

For my money, these guys are the toughest athletes we have. Early starts, long journeys, seven day weeks on little food – no wonder Andrew Tinkler tweeted this morning that if he’d been lucky enough to win the one million that one of Nicky Henderson’s stable staff did this week on a yard five-timer, Tinkler would be straight off to Heathrow – not riding work the next morning as indeed the lottery winner was (full story here).

Anyway, props to Ruby Walsh and Tony McCoy for yesterday; not just for having the wisdom to preserve the beloved Kauto Star after nine fences jumped, nor indeed the looks like you won’t even be placed ride on Synchronised to lift the Gold Cup. No, massive, massive respect for this brief exchange, redolent with meaning, between the two friends and competitors during the running of the Gold Cup, reported in the Racing Post.

Ruby said: “I was thinking about pulling up when
AP [McCoy] said ‘if I were you I’d be pulling up’.

The rest is history.

From the Mirror: AP with Synchronised ~ what a lovely Sadler's Wells face

On another cockles-of-my-heart note, Paul Nicholls is parading Kauto Star, Big Buck’s and Rock on Ruby through Ditcheat this lunchtime, in that order. Kauto Star in front, where he belongs.

The Greatest Show on Turf: Gold Cup Day (start spreading the news)

There’s something about Gold Cup Day. For me, Champion Hurdle Day used to be the most nerve-wracking day of the Festival because it was Day One and I was always in love: Rooster Booster, Detroit City, Harchibald, Brave Inca and Hardy Eustace. It was the race I had invested in most heavily emotionally, and sometimes financially, because it felt more like a bit of me. It spoke to my passion for flat racing and as a lot of the contenders had flat racing pedigrees I had another angle in on the form. By Gold Cup day, I was too knackered to do anything more than enjoy the last championship race.

Then a few years ago in a conversation with a fellow punter, sitting in those elevated seats overlooking the course at another Cheltenham meeting, I mentioned that, to me, the Champion Hurdle had started to feel more like a sacrifical altar than a race. As I said it, I was looking out towards Cleeve Hill and imagining all those Champion Hurdlers coming round the top bend. It was one of those things you say, but weren’t expecting to. Since then, Tuesday at the Festival has seemed a little less vitally important.

Gold Cup Day, now on a Friday, stands alone. It never has seemed like a sacrificial altar to me and I don’t want it to start now! After all, if you’ve (the horse) have made it there with a serious chance its just like that line in the Sinatra song New York, New York about making it anywere…King of the Hill, Head of the Heap, Top of the List, King of the Hill la, la, la…

Sorry. No doubt about it, the Gold Cup is a culmination. It is the culmination of the working week, it is the culmination of our National Hunt season, it is the culmination of the Festival and it is the culmination of a jumps horse’s career.

To culminate means to bring to a point of greatest intensity or completion, from the Latin root culminare meaning to crown, or culmen meaning the summit. And there is more. It also has a meaning relating to astronomy. To culminate in astronomical terms means that a star, or other celestial body, reaches the highest point above an observer’s horizon.

Gold Cup Day has its own Star today and I, along with most of the racing fraternity, are hoping beyond hope to see the culmination of Kauto Star’s most magnificent career. If he wins, I will surely be enjoying my own culmination: following the Star into my own celestial meridian.

Conveniently down the road from my house

P.S. If Kauto Star doesn’t win, please let him come back safe with all the rest, and I know we will love him just as much, if not more, as before. And I will still play the Frank Sinatra tune tonight and toast the greatest jump horse I have ever seen.

Greatest Show on Turf: Day Three

Big Buck’s: the once distressing errant apostrophe has now become part of racing legend.

Today I think of him, Inglis Drever, Baracouda and Iris’s Gift, who shared a possessive apostrophe with today’s defending champion.

That is all.

Big Buck's by Charlie Langton

The Greatest Show on Turf: Day Two

I spoke to Wray Barton about Cheltenham today after she enquired how it was going. Well it’s not really I had to reply. My heart’s not in it – one reason for that being that it (my heart) is going to be in my mouth until after the Gold Cup.

That state of being in the world has not been helped by the fatalities so far, five as far as I am aware. Two yesterday in the Cross Country, another in a separate race and two today in the Coral Cup. It’s an unusually high number, and it sours the whole thing. That’s racing, people usually say. That’s life as well. Knowing it doesn’t ease the blow though.

Dusk at Cheltenham

The Greatest Show on Turf: Day One

Hurricane Fly by David Yates from the Mirror

Hurricane Fly is odd-ons favourite to successfully defend the Champion Hurdle today.

What a great study this is of him on the course at the foot of Cleeve Hill.

I hope everyone has the Festival they wish for.

Heart in mouth time

It’s a funny saying that, attributed to Homer’s ‘Iliad’; a feeling Queen Hecuba gets immediately before hearing the news of her son, Hector’s, death. The full line being:

‘In my chest, my heart leapt in my mouth, my lower limbs are numb.’

I just read the news from Paul Nicholl’s yard that Kauto Star will run in the Gold Cup this Friday afternoon, and the saying came immediately to mind. My heart is in my mouth, and it’s going to stay there until the race is run on Friday. It’s difficult to organise your thoughts when you feel like that, so here’s some more from The Iliad, Book 22.

Just as some horses,
sure-footed, prize-winning creatures, make the turn
around the post and race quickly as they strive to win
some splendid prize—a tripod or a woman
honouring a man that’s died—that’s how these two men raced,
going three times round Priam’s city on their sprinting feet.

And here is a picture of Kauto Star and Long Run. It’s interesting to note how the old warrior looks quite perky and the new kid on the block looks a bit, well, knackered.

Please let them all come back safe, in this order...

The week ahead: Kauto Star

I’ve lost and gained in my time on racecourses. Money obviously, but other stuff too, stuff which is mainly unquantifiable. I’ve not been racing for nearly a year and because of other demands on my time I haven’t kept up with ever-changing minutiae of the sport. By which I mean I rarely look at the form and although I check the Racing Post site most days, I rarely click beyond the main headlines.

I still love horses and racing, but without the time for the study I no longer gamble. Mindlessly backing horses I know nothing about just doesn’t appeal. This Friday is the Cheltenham Gold Cup and Kauto Star, the horse featured on the blog’s header, is likely to run against last year’s Young Pretender who in fact lifted the prize, Long Run. Kauto took a nasty fall at home recently and his participation, let alone his winning, have looked uncertain. Noises from the yard are now positive and the racing world is crossing its collective fingers, not just for the horse to run, but to run and jump safely home.

I don’t have to look at a single piece of form to know about this race. To feel the race in prospect quickening my heart and, equally, if I let it, tattering my nerves. Kauto Star is 12. He has won the King George at Kempton a record 5 times. He is going for his 3rd Gold Cup win, if he runs; the stable will confirm or otherwise tomorrow, but the sounds coming out of there are all positive. Kauto Star is the kind of rare athlete and superstar that superlatives, often frittered away in racing journalism, were made for.

The last horse to win 3 Gold Cups was the flawless Best Mate. Others who achieved the same feat, Arkle and Cottage Rake, were outside my lifetime. Then there was Golden Miller who won a straight 5 Gold Cups on the bounce between 1932 and 1936 – click here for videos of these and other Cheltenham legends. At 12 Kauto Star is never going to achieve that number, but with his King George victories a 3rd Gold Cup would put him right up there with Golden Miller, to my mind.

I am not one for debating who was the best National Hunt horse across the centuries, but I know special, special, special when I see it and, whatever happens this week, Kauto Star is staying as this blog’s header shot for a very long time to come.

Kauto Star at home with Clifford Baker, his lad who has the final say on whether he runs

Kauto Star takes ‘a tumble’

I am sad to read the news that Kauto Star has had what was in fact a rather nasty training fall at home last week. The horse is reportedly not himself and the yard says he is 50/50 to make it to the Gold Cup at Cheltenham later this month.

I would not want to be in trainer Paul Nicholls shoes over the next few weeks.

It feels like the end of an era ~ you can’t have a Gold Cup without Denman and now Kauto Star, can you?

Not really…