The winner of five King Georges and two Cheltenham Gold Cups for the owner and trainer, he had been officially retired in late October but was expected to remain at Manor Farm Stables in Somerset until St Stephen’s Day, when he was due to parade at Kempton.
However, he unexpectedly left Nicholls’ care after Smith had announced on Monday that the 12-year-old would be moving away to be prepared by European bronze medalist eventing rider Laura Collett and long-time Great Britain manager and coach Yogi Breisner for a new career in the world of dressage.
The decision was not popular with Nicholls and his staff and the champion trainer decided to ask Smith to remove Kauto Star from the yard less than 24 hours later.
The request came as a surprise to Smith, who says that Nicholls had been fully briefed on future plans for the superstar gelding.
“When Paul rang me I was on the runway heading to New York and he dropped the bombshell,” Smith said last night.
“The idea originally came about after talking to Di Arbuthnot of Retraining of Racehorses and she put me in touch with Yogi Breisner.
“Two weeks ago I had a coffee and a chat with Yogi and he suggested dressage and I was very impressed with the idea. Not that either of us thought he’d shown any previous inclination, it was just something new. Yogi suggested Laura Collett who is a European champion and a very good rider.
“Paul Nicholls has made out he didn’t know anything about it, but I’ve kept him informed since May. We talked about eventing and he knew eventually he would be doing something away from the yard.
“I agreed to put him back into training but we made the decision on October 31 to retire him. We agreed he could stay at the yard until Boxing Day, but at Sandown on Saturday, I told him the dressage thing was coming about.
“I’m extremely disappointed in Paul Nicholls.
“We agreed about him leaving the yard and he even said Laura Collett could come and take away the horse. When I told him all this, he told me what a good job Neptune Collonges (Nicholls’ 2012 Grand National winner) had done in dressage.”
The winner of 19 races for the champion trainer, including four Betfair Chases and two Tingle Creeks, Kauto Star had been with Nicholls for eight years and was invariably ridden by his head lad Clifford Baker.
Nicholls admitted it had been a tearful occasion as Kauto Star left Ditcheat for the last time.
However, he said he felt it was best all round if his former stable star made a swift departure rather than waiting until after Christmas.
“It has been no secret that Kauto’s future has been a great source of debate since we announced his retirement,” Nicholls told his Betfair column. “And, to be brutally honest, this morning I felt the time had finally come for me to take control of the situation, and to start making the decisions.
“Now, I am fully aware that Kauto is Clive’s horse and he can do as he wishes, even though I would personally have loved Clifford to have looked after him for the rest of his years.
“But what upset me and my team here is when Clive announced that he had spoken to experts about the horse’s future – but failed to consult and listen properly to the team that had looked after him here for the past nine years. That really upset us.”