Nicholls team ponder King George plans

PAUL NICHOLLS and Clive Smith are weighing up their options for the King George VI Chase at Kempton after both Kauto Star and Master Minded staked their claims for the Stephen’s Day highlight with victories on Saturday.

Many had written off Kauto Star after he was pulled up at Punchestown at the end of last season having been left chasing Long Run’s shadow on a couple of occasions.

But the 11-year-old silenced any doubters by giving his younger rival a good beating in the Betfair Chase at Haydock on Saturday and Nicholls believes he has earned the right to bid for a remarkable fifth win in the King George.

Master Minded has had the three-mile Kempton prize as his primary objective since the start of the campaign and he looked to be right back to his best when winning the Amlin 1965 Chase at Ascot.

“It’s going to make things interesting now,” said the champion trainer

“Clive and I will have to sit down and have a good chat and make a bit of a gameplan.

“I’m astounded at how well Kauto has come out of yesterday. He’s eaten up this morning and he’s as bright as a button.

“Saturday was one of the best days of racing I’ve experienced. The whole event, the emotion and everything about it was just brilliant,” Nicholls told At The Races.

“What’s frustrating is all these people who keep saying that (Kauto Star should be retired) don’t actually know the horse. We at home know him better than anybody and people ought to know by now I wouldn’t take any chances and run him if he wasn’t right.

“He’s been showing so many good signs at home and if he was eight years old he’d be favourite for the King George and the Gold Cup on yesterday’s run as it was one of his best.

“He doesn’t want retiring – he’s a long time retired. He loves what he’s doing and it’s so good for racing.”

While Kauto Star may have been at peak fitness, Nicholls feels there is more improvement in Master Minded.

“He needed the run at Aintree and there was huge improvement. He was back on a right-handed track, which he does favour, and he was awesome again yesterday,” Nicholls added.

“I think there’s still improvement to come.”

Ruby Walsh was the man in the saddle on Kauto Star and feels his superb performance proved he is not ready for retirement just yet.

“He’s 11, he’s not 14. He got beaten in the King George and the Gold Cup and people don’t want to see a great horse on the way down, but Paul was confident he’d get him back and he did,” said Walsh.

“I didn’t realise at the time he’d won by eight lengths. He put a good bit of distance between himself and the second from the back of the last (fence).

“Paul had him really ready for yesterday – he had him revved up and fit. He was no way rusty.

Should Kauto Star and Master Minded line up in the King George, Walsh will of course have to decide which to ride, but he refuses to look that far ahead.

“It’s great to be here. This time last year I was watching on television feeling rather sorry for myself. What is going to happen at Christmas, I couldn’t really care less, I just want to be there.”

Long Run’s owner Robert Waley-Cohen is already looking forward to a rematch with Kauto Star.

“The horse is absolutely fine this morning and there was no disgrace in being beaten by Kauto Star, who was in absolutely sparkling form,” said Waley-Cohen.

“I was surprised Long Run was in trouble so far from home, but I was pleased with how he stuck on in the straight to finish second.

“He’ll come on a ton for the run and we look forward to the rematch at Kempton.”

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