Kauto is Nicholl's star turn

Paul Nicholls nominated Kauto Star’s totesport Cheltenham Gold Cup triumph as his highlight of the 2008-9 National Hunt season while collecting his fourth consecutive champion trainer award.

The dominant force in the jumping ranks gathered with the others stars of the campaign at Sandown Park to bring down the curtain on another enthralling winter of action over obstacles.

Ditcheat-based Nicholls has amassed over £3.5m in prize money during the past 12 months, and topped his best-ever seasonal tally of winners with 155 victories.

And of those, Kauto Star’s sensational success over stablemate Denman at Cheltenham in March earned pride of place in his affections.

Nicholls said: “The Gold Cup would be my highlight of the year.

“Kauto Star was the first to regain his crown and for Denman to finish second with all of his problems was unbelievable.

“Paul Barber, Harry Findlay, Clive Smith and Andy Stewart are all great owners and enthusiasts and deserve all the success they get.

“The whole team has worked hard all year and I hope that will continue.

“The pressure is off now and we have about 20 to run through the summer, until the season really gets going again in October.”

Kauto Star and Denman were joined by Nicholls’ Ladbrokes World Hurdle winner Big Buck’s, John Smith’s Grand National hero Mon Mome and Order of Merit victor Voy Por Ustedes in the parade ring before racing for a ’parade of champions’.

Nicholls added of his trio: “They will all be out to grass in 10 days and Master Minded, Kauto Star, Denman and Big Buck’s will all go out in a field together.

“Big Buck’s has never been the most natural over fences but he went close to winning the Hennessy.

“Switching him to hurdles was probably the best thing that has happened and the rest is history as they say.

“The aim for Kauto Star will be to get him back to win a fourth King George.

“Denman was a little weak after falling at Aintree and it would be similar to a human knocking their elbow.

“He was sore for 10 to 15 minutes but cantered for the next five days and we have kept him ticking over.

“Hopefully we can bring him back next year for a fresh campaign without any problems.”

The indomitable force in the saddle, Tony McCoy became the first National Hunt rider to break through the 3,000-winner mark in February and he was crowned champion jockey for the 14th consecutive year.

McCoy visited the winner’s enclosure 186 times during the season, his final victory coming aboard Hennessy in the bet365 Gold Cup, the last headline event of the campaign.

He carried his daughter Eve onto the podium to collect his title trophy from British Olympic and world champion track cyclist Victoria Pendleton.

McCoy said: “I am not sure I will keep on riding until I am 45 like Ruby Walsh has been suggesting I will, but I will keep on going for a few years yet.

“I work with some great people, ride some great horses for great people and I love my job.”

McCoy’s most ardent supporter and indeed his retained owner, JP McManus, was crowned champion owner after losing the title to David Johnson last year.

McManus has only recently arrived back in Ireland after treatment for prostate cancer in America.

His racing manager, Frank Berry, said: “JP would love to have been here.

“He is now back home and I saw him yesterday and he was in good form.

“He hopes to be back racing soon and has had a great season both here and in Ireland.”

McCoy added: “I have been talking to him over the last few weeks in America and when I spoke to him last night, he was definitely sounding better.

“He seems to be in good form and I hope he continues to improve.”

Aidan Coleman took top honours as champion conditional jockey but missed the pre-race presentations due to traffic problems.

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