23 December 2007

The Stan James King George VI Chase is the Boxing Day jumping highlight, so it’s fitting that jumping should be its absolute key. On all form so far, if Kauto Star jumps properly, he wins.

But will he jump? Driving home from Kempton last year was to be full of the image of the power that put Exotic Dancer and Racing Demon to the sword, but also of the fallibility that saw him dive terrifyingly at the fourth last fence and then literally jump on and kick through the final obstacle. Kauto Star has got himself on the floor three times in the past, once in France and at Exeter and Cheltenham over here. If he took the sort of risk he did at the fourth last you absolutely could not guarantee his safety.

That said, there is getting to be something of a method even in Kauto’s mistakes. In what almost amounts to car-crash voyeurism, I have found myself in the habit of standing at the last fence in his races. While he never seems to get very high, the crossing of the fence appears to be rather more than the hazardous guess which, for instance, he threw in at the final obstacle at Newbury, on his next start after Kempton.

He went very low at Cheltenham before winning the Gold Cup, did the same at Aintree before finishing second to Monet’s Garden first time this season and at Haydock in November, he gave the last fence none of the height and respect that he had given to the other 15 obstacles. But he is now in his fourth season and facing his 14th race over fences. Even horses infinitely thicker than him tend over the years to find a way out of trouble for the blindingly obvious reason that they find it infinitely preferable to stay upright than let the ground come up to bite them.

The other big plus about Kauto Star this season is that he looks more settled than he was last term. Ruby Walsh is adamant that the great achievement of switching back to two miles to win the Tingle Creek last December also gave Kauto Star his biggest problem . . . he was too revved-up for his own good in the King George. My belief is that if he gets beaten at Kempton, it will not be down to his jumping.

What could get him beaten is either a hangover from his two hard races this season or a career best from Exotic Dancer (who has only to find a couple of pounds improvement) or Racing Demon and My Way De Solzen. Everything is possible, but of the three I prefer My Way De Solzen even though he was a full 42 lengths behind Kauto Star and Exotic Dancer at Haydock.

Unless you stood out in the soaking rain it’s impossible to exaggerate how wet and testing a day it was that day and for that reason I am prepared to accept the normally ultra-reliable Alan King when he says that his horse was caught short in condition. My Way De Solzen has the unique double of winning the Ladbroke World Hurdle and the Arkle Chase at Cheltenham in consecutive years. Those were performances of the highest class. If there are any chinks in Kauto Star, he is the most likely to exploit them.

Expect Racing Demon to run even better than last year, and for Exotic Dancer to once again close late for an argument. But the race that is set in the stars is the Gold Cup clash between Kauto Star and stable companion Denman, who should overpower The Listener and Beef Or Salmon at Leopardstown on Friday. I neither want nor expect anything to prevent what would be the finest showdown since Arkle/Mill House way back in 1964.

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