The 12-year-old will go down in history as one of the true legends of the National Hunt game after becoming the first horse to regain the Gold Cup crown in 2009 — in addition to his five victories in the King George VI Chase at Kempton.
The Paul Nicholls-trained gelding was written off at the start of the season after pulling up at Punchestown at the end of the last campaign, but he roared back, to the delight of his army of fans, with victories over Long Run in the Betfair Chase at Haydock and in his history-making win at Kempton on St Stephen’s Day.
Having been nursed back to fitness by connections after a schooling ground fall, the stage was set for his date with destiny at Prestbury Park.
All appeared to be going well in the early exchanges, but Ruby Walsh began to give off distress signals heading down the back straight and within seconds Kauto Star was falling back through the field. The inevitable followed as Walsh sensibly pulled up his mount, a move that brought a rousing applause from the grandstand.
Despite returning from the race unscathed, Smith admits Kauto Star is unlikely to run again. He said: “It’s pointless saying he’s retired now as opposed to a month’s time.
“It’s probably 90% sure (he’ll be retired). I’ll make my mind up about it and I’ll take advice, but somebody would have to work very hard to persuade me that we’ll see him out again.”
With previous Gold Cup champions Best Mate and Dawn Run having lost their lives on the racecourse, Smith is keen to take such a scenario out of the equation.
“I wouldn’t want to have a Best Mate situation or a Dawn Run situation and it might be best to call it a day now. It probably won’t be long,” he added. “He’s not seriously injured at all. It’s just like when we get a tweak in the back if we’re playing golf or something. Ruby could feel him dropping back straight away, instantly almost, and he felt he should pull him up.
“It was sad to see as you always want to see a real contest, but equally I was pleased Kauto was all right.
“I can look back on a wonderful career. He’s been a fantastic horse and I couldn’t have wished to own one better. I’m so proud to have owned him and so many people have loved seeing him run. People have said to me he’s changed their lives.”
Ruby Walsh insisted he felt he had little option but to stop Kauto’s race early, a move which brought back memories of the great Istabraq, who was similarly pulled up when bidding for a fourth Champion Hurdle in 2002.
“I jumped the water and I wasn’t happy at that stage, when Kauto Star couldn’t lay up with Midnight Chase, I knew I was in trouble. I drifted further back and further back and I was struggling badly going to the fourth last the first time. I landed and AP (McCoy) said to me ‘if I was you I’d pull him up’, and he was right.
“It would have been a hell of a lot worse if I’d turned him over and he broke his neck at the third last.
“I got a good break and jumped the first well, pinged the second and was okay at the third. He jumped the water great, but he was never coming on the bridle.
“He’s been a wonderful horse — a horse of a lifetime. He’d be my favourite horse anyway. I doubt I’ll ever ride a horse as good again.”
Nicholls has left the door open for a potential return to the racecourse for his star, but is not intending on making a snap decision.
He said: “We won’t worry about whether or not that was the last run of his career. He has been a blinding horse, so we will turn him out during the summer and then see what happens. He is unlikely to run in the Gold Cup again.”