Team plots Kauto Star comeback

Team plots Kauto Star comeback

Kauto Star will bid to regain his Cheltenham Gold Cup crown back from stablemate Denman as a fresh horse with trainer Paul Nicholls planning to send him straight to the Festival after a run over Christmas.

Clive Smith's eight-year-old has a third win in the King George VI Chase on Boxing Day on the agenda, after which he will be saved for the totesport-sponsored blue riband on March 13.

The eight-year-old took in the Aon Chase en route to the success in the Gold Cup in 2007 while this year he landed the First Commercial Ascot Chase before following home his stablemate at the Festival.

Nicholls said: "He looks fantastic and I think he is as good as ever. He took time to find his form last year but this year Clifford (Baker, head lad) has been astonished by the way he has been working.

"If the ground and track are right then he will start off at Down Royal on November 1, and if he misses that then he will go straight to the Betfair Chase at Haydock later that month.

"He then has four or five weeks to the King George and we will then keep him fresh and go straight to Cheltenham."

In contrast Denman will have a run in the build-up to the Gold Cup, with Nicholls eyeing a repeat win in the Aon Chase at Newbury in February.

The eight-year-old was due to start off in the Hennessy next month but his schedule had to be rearranged after he was found to be suffering from a fibrillating heart.

Nicholls said of Denman, who is unbeaten in nine starts over fences and is the 11-8 favourite with the sponsors for the Gold Cup: "He was heavy when we brought him back in after the summer and I couldn't put my finger on why he was under performing.

"He was lethargic, not eating and was slow up the hill.

"We then discovered he had a fibrillating heart and took him to Newmarket for treatment.

"They treated the problem easily but he was ill for a week when he came back due to the toxins in the medication.

"He is looking fantastic now, has been doing two hours a day and will start back cantering next week.

"He won't run this side of Christmas and will have just one run before Cheltenham, which is highly likely to be in the Aon.

"He will be a fresher horse this year so could also go to Aintree for the Betfair Bowl, but he definitely won't be running in the Grand National."

Neptune Collonges completed a famous one-two-three in the Gold Cup for Nicholls last spring, and he will bid to follow in Denman's footsteps by winning the Lexus Chase at Leopardstown over Christmas.

"He was probably the most improved horse in training last year and I hope he can keep improving," said Nicholls.

"He is always better after Christmas so will start off in the Lexus Chase, have one more before the Gold Cup and then go to Punchestown to try and win the Gold Cup there for the third year."

Another the champion trainer envisages developing into a Gold Cup contender is Big Bucks, winner of the Grade Two John Smith's Novices' Chase at Aintree.

He said: "We tried to make him an Arkle horse last year but he was better suited by going a trip at Aintree.

"He will have his first run in the Hennessy, which is often won by a second-season chaser, and I would like to think he could develop into another candidate for the Gold Cup."

However, riding plans for his two principal contenders will not be made nearer to the time with Sam Thomas having steered Denman to success in March, while Ruby Walsh stayed loyal to Kauto Star.

Nicholls added: "There is no point worrying about it. It will be nice to get them both back there in good form and then we can start thinking about it."

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