Elsworth won't desert Kauto

Should Kauto Star outstrip the record of the great Desert Orchid at Kempton on St Stephen's Day, David Elsworth will be with him every step of the way.

Should Kauto Star outstrip the record of the great Desert Orchid at Kempton on St Stephen's Day, David Elsworth will be with him every step of the way.

Elsworth managed to train the popular grey to win four King George VI Chases in five years, but Kauto Star can go just a touch better with a quartet of consecutive victories.

Between Desert Orchid’s first success in the King George in 1986 and his final appearance on the racecourse when he fell in the race in 1991, the Sunbury course transformed into a cauldron of excitement.

We can feel assured there will be some atmosphere if Kauto Star wins yet again.

But, for various reasons, the white-blazed gelding does not seem quite the folk hero his paler predecessor was.

Perhaps it is simply his colour and his imperious nature. Nothing like as flash and exuberant as Desert Orchid, Kauto Star is the Roger Federer of the sport; admired and wholeheartedly respected for technical perfection but perhaps not adored by all and sundry like the Andre Agassi of ’Dessie’.

Certainly Elsworth, an occasionally combustible but generally avuncular man of 70, contributed much to the story and looked after the horse even when moving to Newmarket up to his death, aged 27, in 2006.

Although he no longer handles jumpers because of the emotional heartache involved, he still retains a close involvement.

“I am a part of it, everyone who follows racing is a part of it,” he says.

“Every Saturday, I promise you, I can’t wait to get the paper. Jumping is really special now; I think it is going through probably its highest popularity ever.

“Even as a Flat trainer I really can’t wait to get the runners and do my yankee and I’m back from the pub at half past twelve to see the first race.”

Elsworth has some typically interesting views on the horse that can take his crown.

“I can’t see why he shouldn’t become as popular as Dessie,” he considers. “I suppose part of the reason Desert Orchid was so popular is that he was grey, and he ran very often on big Saturdays when there was a large audience.

“Both of them ran over a variety of distances, but Dessie did have to carry big weights in handicaps, which is not something Kauto Star has been confronted with. That’s the main difference.

“Paul Nicholls has done awfully well with Kauto Star, and trained him brilliantly for much of his life.

“He’s also blessed with a very good rider in Ruby Walsh. Three miles at a good pace is perfect as he settles, that’s his big thing.

“But if he really wants to follow Dessie, he shouldn’t win it this year, and then come back and win it next year!”

Considering possible dangers, he adds: “Imperial Commander is a new horse and really looks like the only serious opposition in the field but I think Kauto will win it this year.

“Mind you, for me Denman is the king, and I think Denman will come back and beat Kauto Star in the Gold Cup.”

Of Desert Orchid’s four King George wins, Elsworth has an immediate favourite.

“The first was definitely the sweetest as I thought I was the only one who knew Desert Orchid would win,” he says.

“He was the second string as I had Combs Ditch in the race. I really thought he had a wonderful chance but that time there was some doubt as to whether he’d actually stay the three miles.

“He went on to win over three and a half around Sandown and three five in the Irish National, but at the time he showed his best form on two miles on fast ground.

“I conjured up dreams he would jump the last fence on the back side six lengths clear and increase his advantage, which is exactly what happened, but I thought I was the only guy in the world who thought it would happen. So it was something special for me.”

Elsworth is the ideal person to offer insight into the pressure Nicholls will have up to December 26, but feels it is not quite as acute it would appear.

“I was on the inside looking out, and Paul is experiencing the same thing,” he explains. “One has got a workload at the time – you are not just training one horse, you are training lots of horses and it sort of goes over your head.

“You just have a routine, you carry on. I’m sure connections are worrying about the well-being of Kauto Star but he has got lots of other things so he can keep pedalling the bike and not be only focussed on one horse.

“I trained some pretty good horses at the same time as Desert Orchid. He did occupy my thoughts and energies a lot of the time but you would be surprised how it just creeps up on you.

“It wasn’t suddenly trying to train a fourth King George winner – it had been accumulated over the seasons.”

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