Paul Nicholls insists he will not compromise on Kauto Star’s Betfred Cheltenham Gold Cup preparation, despite the horse taking a heavy fall at home.
Nicholls announced yesterday that the Clive Smith-owned 12-year-old was only 50-50 to make the Festival feature on March 16 after suffering an “awful fall” in a schooling session at Ditcheat last Friday.
Kauto Star, twice a winner of the Gold Cup, has undergone a renaissance this year, twice beating reigning Cheltenham champion Long Run, and hopes were high of an historic third title.
While Nicholls admits it is a “nightmare” situation, his top priority is producing Kauto Star, who came through a Friday morning canter unscathed, at the top of his form.
He said: “We will do everything to get there in one piece and top order.
“We want him at the very top of his game so he can perform like he did at Haydock and Kempton, if he’s not like that, then there’s no question of him running.
“It’s the first time he’s ever fallen at home in his life.
“He’s cantered every day since, so he hasn’t missed any work, but obviously the next 10 days are crucial and next Saturday is when he would do his last strong bit of serious work.
“Clifford (Baker, head lad) will know where we are then.
“We need to know where we are. He will still work hard next week and then he will do a good, strong piece of work next Saturday with (Ladbrokes World Hurdle favourite) Big Buck’s, who he has worked with recently, and then Clifford, who rides him every day, will know exactly where we are.
“If you saw him now, you wouldn’t even know he had a problem.
“I paraded him in front of 130 people on Sunday and there wasn’t a person there who said he didn’t look outstandingly well.
“He’s in the right place, He’s like a rugby or football player, he’s a bit older so he takes two days longer to get over it as he’s getting on.
“If it was a month, we would have absolutely no problem whatsoever. It’s a nightmare, really, but we will keep everyone posted,” he told At The Races.
Nicholls explained the timeline of the current issue, outlining the reasons why the problem only came to light late on Thursday afternoon.
He said: “Clifford alerted to me that he felt on Wednesday morning, although he worked nicely, he just felt a little bit sore and, in his opinion, which is very important, it might be 50-50 that he could run at Cheltenham.
“I said to Clive, ’I really do want to put this in the public domain and let everybody know’.
“Once Clifford had given me that information, I spoke to Clive, updated him and said ’look I want to make a statement saying what happened’.
“I waited until late yesterday afternoon simply because it was Josh Gifford’s memorial service and I didn’t want to say anything until after that and then I let everyone know the situation we were in.
“If I had (have mentioned it over the weekend), all it would have done was cause a massive alarm, a lot of panic and there was no doubt then that we were going to get there.
“It was only when Clifford told me on Wednesday when I came back from (a media launch at) Cheltenham that in his opinion it was 50-50.”
Kauto Star emerged victorious in the Gold Cup in 2007 and then again in 2009 but could finish only a distant third behind Long Run last term.
After two verdicts over that rival this campaign, Kauto Star had been a 3-1 shot with the sponsors for this year’s race but he is now 4-1 and longer with most bookmakers.