Kauto Star makes his eagerly anticipated racecourse reappearance on Saturday when he heads to Down Royal, where trainer, Paul Nicholls, will be hoping he can get his season off to a winning start. The 2007 Cheltenham Gold Cup winner will line up in the JNWine Champion Chase, a race which the Nicholls stable won twelve months ago with Taranis.
It is an unusual choice for Kauto Stars seasonal debut; given his previous two campaigns had started with runs in the Old Roan Chase at Aintree. However, following defeat in the aforementioned race last year, together with back to back second place finishes in his previous two starts at the back end of last season, it would appear that Paul Nicholls is airing on the side of caution with his choice of race ahead of the 2008 National Hunt season.
Saturdays trip across the Irish Sea to the County Antrim track will be the first time that Kauto Star has raced outside of England since arriving on our shores from France as an unknown Novice Chase back in 2004. His first run in Britain came in December of that year when Ruby Walsh, his now long term companion, guided him to an exhilarating nine length victory over several useful rivals. Since then, the French bred son of Village Star has gone on to firmly establish himself as one of the greatest race horses in living memory. Despite a fall in the 2006 Queen Mother Champion Chase at the Cheltenham Festival, Kauto Star has never failed to finish outside of the top two in any of his 17 runs over fences, which boasts an impressive 11 victories with an average winning distance of over nine lengths.
When finishing behind Our Vic at the Grand National meeting in April, Kauto Star confirmed fears that his jumping can prove costly after ploughing through the penultimate fence to lose all momentum, sacrificing a six length lead in the process. Only three weeks prior to his Aintree error, he was beaten in the Cheltenham Gold Cup by Denman, and whilst nobody can argue that Denman is himself a class act, had Kauto Star put in a sound round of jumping in the Cheltenham Festival showpiece, the race would have been much closer.
Word coming out of Paul Nicholls Ditcheat stables ahead of Kauto Stars first run of the season is that he has summered well and is in prime condition to get his season of to a winning start. No chance has been taken in choosing his first assignment and the fact that he has been sent to Ireland suggests that connections mean business in 2008. Providing he comes out of the JNWine Champion Chase unscathed racing fans can look forward to another campaign of big race runs including the Betfair chase at Haydock at the end of November, a possible tilt at the King George at Kempton on Boxing Day and ultimately a second Gold Cup victory at the Cheltenham Festival in March where he will look to avenge last years defeat at the hands of stable mate, Denman.
Make no mistake, Kauto Star does have questions to answer during the forthcoming season but in the same vein, no racing enthusiast can deny he is a horse very much out of top drawer of Thoroughbred racing and if the jumping errors have been ironed out expect this Star to once again be on the ascendancy in 2008.