Horse and Hound, November 2011
With chasers it’s the jumping that counts – always has done, always should do. It really counted for Kauto Star at Haydock – and at a couple of fences it got close to counting him out.
And to think that jumping used to be the one flaw in the dazzling jewel of the Kauto Star talent. He fell over hurdles in France as a three year old. He fell and was remounted at Exeter in January 2005 (3 months before Long Run was born), he took an absolute crasher in the Champion Chase in 2006, he tipped off the luckless Sam Thomas at the last in the Betfair Chase of 2008, and only 18 months ago he turned a real neck-breaker of a somersault in Imperial Commander’s Gold Cup. He was and is one of the greatest chasers we have ever seen. But he was always some way short of an entirely safe conveyance.
Quite apart from the actual falls, Kauto used to get himself into some nightmare positions when clear at the final fence and at times drove Ruby Walsh to near distraction. A lesser horseman would have fallen straight off Kauto at the last at Kempton in the 2006 King George and would have probably done the same next up at Newbury and he was none too safe with the Gold Cup at his mercy in the 2007 Festival. No great horse with so good a trainer and so magnificent a rider can have made such peculiar, varied and repeated errors. At times he didn’t so much gallop into a fence as actually, one day at Kempton, jump on to it and then out the other side. In the end Ruby gave up trying to present him at the last and just drove on at it.
But none of this is to say that Kauto is anything but a superbly athletic jumper. To his connections undying credit he has never crossed a fence any better than he did on Saturday and watching him showed yet again both what sets him apart as well as the seed of that earlier fallibility. For Kauto Star is actually too athletic, too spring heeled for his own good. He does not jump like other horses do.
To be specific, he does not need to gather his quarters under him to make the longer leap. He has such power and reach that he can throw in a long stride jump without any extra effort of his own or of his rider. Ruby has his rhythm to a wondrous “T” and re-watching the pair of them at Haydock is to have your heart sing at the very flow of it. 18 fences and they were perfect at every one. Even at the last, where things were getting a bit ragged and desperate, Ruby kicked on and Kauto threw that odd, long, running leap that has become his fail safe. Saturday was their master class – and Long Run was made to take the role of slightly struggling pupil.
To some extent Long Run’s problems stem from the same shared French chasing origins as Kauto Star. Only two years ago this month Long Run won the £152,000 Prix Maurice Gillois at Auteuil where if you meet a fence wrong you just flip through it. From the start of the horse’s English campaign Nicky Henderson and the Waley Cohen’s have signalled up the challenge of getting their champion to fully adapt. I have sat in on one of Yogi Breisner’s special coaching sessions but Saturday showed that this is still a work in progress.
In particular Long Run has not yet perfected a method of “fiddling” a fence when the easy stride is not there. At Haydock this meant that Sam Waley Cohen was always having to “ask” him and, as Channel 4’s tracking camera so clearly showed, on two occasions down the back straight Long Run did not “come up” but galloped straight in and belted it. To his great credit he never looked like turning over and a looser jock than SWC might have slipped overboard. But the facts are that he tried to mix it alongside the master and came up wanting.
He will learn. They all do, especially a horse as talented as Long Run has already shown himself to be. But Haydock on Saturday was above all a wondrous reaffirmation of the faith. Not for nothing is “Jumping” the name of the game.