In a surprise move, Paul Nicholls’ Cheltenham Gold Cup hope will drop back to two miles for the first time since falling in the Queen Mother Champion Chase as he bids to retain his crown at Sandown.
“He’s in great form and, having won the race last year, we are really looking forward to running in it again,” said Nicholls.
Kauto Star’s next appearance was expected to be in the King George VI Chase at Kempton on St Stephen’s Day.
But after liaising with owner Clive Smith and regular jockey Ruby Walsh, Nicholls has opted to send his six-year-old to Esher, where he won the Tingle Creek with a length and a half to spare from Ashley Brook 12 months ago.
Nicholls’ assistant Dan Skelton added: “He (Nicholls) had a discussion with Clive and Ruby about the whole thing to see what’s best and they’ve decided to give the horse a chance.
“He hasn’t had a hard race this season and he’s lightly-raced overall and I’m sure a lot of people will want to see him run.
“It’s also a decision that has been taken because he is in great old order with himself at home.”
Hoo La Baloo, Armaturk and Cerium could also represent Nicholls, but Skelton added: “A decision has not been made with those three and we will play it by ear.”
Kauto Star will also be seeking to enhance his position at the head of the Racing UK-sponsored Order of Merit.
Success in the Tingle Creek would put him on 55 points – 30 points clear of his nearest rival.
William Hill – Tingle Creek Chase
Sponsors bet: 4-7 Kauto Star, 7-2 Voy Por Ustedes, 7-1 Foreman, 11-1 Central House, Fota Island, 16-1 Armaturk, Ashley Brook, 25-1 Cerium, Dempsey, Mister McGoldrick (doubtful), 33-1 Oneway, 100-1 Hoo La Baloo, Full House, 200-1 Coat of Honour.
Meanwhile, Kingscliff is likely to have a prep-race before the totesport Cheltenham Gold Cup – but will not be seen on the track until spring.
Trainer Robert Alner put his tame performance in the Betfair Chase at Haydock down to his previous run in the Charlie Hall Chase at Wetherby, when he finished a tired fourth.
The lightly-raced nine-year-old has shown flashes brilliance including a victory in the 2005 Betfair Chase and a fine second in the 2004 King George VI Chase.
His career has been littered with disappointments and problems, however, not least when he was beaten over 100 lengths by Kauto Star in this season’s Betfair Chase.
Alner said: “I am going to lay him off for a while. He is absolutely fine, there are no physical problems or anything.
“He had a hard race at Wetherby and he just wasn’t himself at Haydock.
“He will be back in the spring. I’m not sure if he would have a race before the Gold Cup but he would probably need one.”