Paul Nicholls’ superstar chaser was unable to reclaim the Cheltenham Gold Cup this year but nonetheless returned to the summit of the ratings, deposing Long Run.
Kauto Star’s mark of 180, two fewer than Long Run achieved 12 months ago following his Gold Cup victory, is 10lb shy of his own career-high rating in the 2009/10 season.
The 12-year-old is nonetheless top of the shop again, for the fourth time, based on his emotional fifth King George VI victory – over Long Run at Kempton on Boxing Day.
The British Horseracing Authority’s head of handicapping Phil Smith, announcing this year’s classifications at a press conference at his employers’ London headquarters this lunchtime, admitted to his surprise when Kauto Star lit up Kempton again by regaining the King George.
“I thought his win at Haydock (in the Betfair Chase last November) was going to be his last hurrah,” he said.
“He was fit to run for his life there; Long Run was sketchy at one or two fences, and I fully expected him to get his revenge at Kempton.
“There was no question that this was another 180-plus performance.”
Kauto Star was subsequently pulled up in what Smith today described as an “Istabraq moment” in the Gold Cup – where the sold-out crowd made their appreciation obvious as Kauto Star, like the great Champion Hurdler before him, made his way off the track while the remaining runners set out on their final circuit.
His racing future, at his advanced age, remains a subject of conjecture.
Long Run, described by Smith as “a little bit frustrating” this past season, has slipped from 182 last year to 178 – while ill-fated Gold Cup winner Synchronised is rated on 168 alongside Grand National hero Neptune Collonges.
The latter was retired upon winning at Aintree, in the race which claimed the life of Synchronised.
Jonjo O’Neill’s admirable stayer is the lowest-rated Gold Cup winner in the history of the ratings, which have been published in their present form only since 2000.
Smith therefore identifies “a huge void” at the top of the staying chasers’ tree, and an opportunity for this year’s novices – or handicap improvers – as the end of a “golden era” looms.
Neptune Collonges’ rating marks him out as the highest among Grand National winners, or indeed losers, since an at least comparable effort in defeat by another grey, Suny Bay, 14 years ago.