Leave Kauto to the sentimentalists

WHEN Kauto Star landed the Gold Cup two years ago he created history.

Prior to that no horse had ever won the Gold Cup, was beaten the following year and then regained the crown.

Kauto managed the feat and so very much cemented his place in the folklore of the great festival.

But wait, here comes Kauto one more time. On Friday he will be bidding to achieve something which we can virtually guarantee will never be equalled.

Now the challenge is to win one, lose one, win again, lose again and then win again. So can he do it?

Well, he has come in for some inspired support of late, so clearly has to be more than pleasing Paul Nicholls.

That said Kauto Star is now an 11-year-old and you would have to be forgiven for thinking his best years are behind him.

His latest outing came in the King George at Kempton, when trailing in third behind Long Run and Riverside Theatre. The sentimentalists will support him, but sentiment won’t pay the bills and here’s one, at least, who will be seeking the likely winner elsewhere.

A lot of interest this week will centre on the attendances at Cheltenham. All the indications are that those travelling from Ireland will be way down on previous years.

That is perfectly understandable, given the massive recession here, but the Irish do have a marked tendency to come out of the woodwork for major sporting occasions.

Bookmakers report that ante-post activity has been way down on previous years. The figure being quoted is 30% and that is a massive amount. The watering-down of the festival is hardly a help. Extending the meeting to four days and a whopping 27 races has to have had a detrimental effect on ante-post activity.

Willie Mullins leads the charge for the Irish and has by far and away the strongest hand of any of our trainers.

His Hurricane Fly has a massive chance in the Champion Hurdle. He has always had the potential to win this race, but niggling problems along the way have seen him miss the last two festivals.

This season, for the first time, Mullins had had a trouble-free run with his charge and there is growing confidence in the seven-year-old’s ability to do the business.

He is unbeaten in three races and glowing reports regarding his sparkling homework of late have been most encouraging.

Mullins’ Quevega, in the David Nicholson Mares’ Hurdle tomorrow, looks certain to go off the shortest priced favourite, with the possible exception of Big Buck’s in the World Hurdle on Thursday, of the meeting.

This has to be regarded as quite remarkable, considering it will be Quevega’s first outing of the season.

But she won the race a year ago, without the benefit of a previous run, and also took the contest in 2009 on the back of a single preparatory outing.

On Wednesday it will be the clash of the big two, Master Minded for England and Big Zeb for Ireland, in the two-mile Champion Chase. The layers will surely be determined to lay both of them heavily, however, because neither has been overly convincing this season.

Also on Wednesday, Jessica Harrington’s Oscars Well looks the likely favourite for the Neptune Investment Novices’ Hurdle, having been so impressive in Grade 1 company at Leopardstown.

But this is a savagely competitive contest, with English challengers, Rock On Ruby and Bobs Worth, the Willie Mullins pair, So Young and Day Of A Lifetime, as well as Mouse Morris’ First Lieutenant, all entitled to respect.

Since Cheltenham became a four-day jamboree, Thursday has always been regarded as the weakest afternoon of the week.

This year promises to be better. The Ryanair Chase is a decent contest and the changing of the Jewson to a conditions race, from a handicap, is a major plus.

But it is the Ladbrokes’ World Hurdle which is the real attraction and this could well light up the Cotswolds. Big Buck’s has won the last two runnings and, for most of the winter, looked certain to go off an odds-chance.

But the rapid progress of David Pipe’s Grands Crus up through the ranks has changed all of that and he has emerged as a major threat.

As a result Big Buck’s drifted to odds against, which seemed quite unthinkable not so long ago.

Not since War Of Attrition five years ago has Ireland won the Gold Cup and we face the race this time round more in hope than confidence.

We do have two live shots in Kempes and Pandorama, but both have a bit to prove. Kempes just doesn’t look good enough and it was a shame that injury prevented Pandorama from contesting the Hennessy at Leopardstown last month.

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