Few, if any, steeplechasers of the modern era – not even the trail-blazing grey, Desert Orchid – have captured the imagination of the racing public in the same way as Kauto Star. Although rated fully a stone-and-a-half inferior to Arkle, according Timeform, Kauto Star nonetheless ranks joint-fourth, alongside Mill House, in the list of highest-rated steeplechasers of the Timeform Era. Poignantly, until usurped by Arkle, Mill House was widely regarded as the best British steeplechaser since Golden Miller in the Thirties, so the assertion of Ruby Walsh, who rode Kauto Star to 17 of his 23 victories, that he was ‘the horse of my lifetime’ is entirely justifiable.
Owned by Clive Smith and trained by Paul Nicholls – from whose yard his eventual departure, to embark upon a new career in dressage, in 2012, caused an acrimonious split between the pair – Kauto Star is probably best remembered for winning the King George VI Chase at Kempton an unprecedented five times between 2006 and 2011. However, Kauto Star ran at the Cheltenham Festival every year between 2006 and 2012. On his first attempt, as a six-year-old, he fell at the third fence, when favourite, in the Queen Mother Champion Chase but, for the rest of his career, exclusively contested the Cheltenham Gold Cup.
Indeed, Kauto Star won the ‘Blue Riband’ event at his first attempt in 2007 and, although beaten 7 lengths by stable companion Denman when odds-on to defend his title in 2008, avenged that defeat with an impressive, 13-length defeat of the same horse on his return to Prestbury Park. In so doing, he became the first horse to regain the Cheltenham Gold Cup. All told, Kauto Star won 19 of the 31 steeplechases he contested – including 16 at Grade One level – at distances between 1 mile 7½ furlongs and 3 miles 2½ furlongs, and over £2.3 million in prize money. Tragically, after suffering complications to neck and pelvic injuries sustained in a freak accident in a field at home, Kauto Star was humanely euthanised in 2015.