Nicholls upbeat - but which Kauto Star will turn up at Down Royal?

THE executive must be smacking their collective lips in expectation of Kauto Star arriving for Saturday’s JNwine.com Champion Chase at Down Royal.

To get one of the real superstars of the National Hunt game, for what has become a hugely popular Grade 1, is a tremendous achievement and every other racecourse in the country has to be glancing north with more than a hint of envy.

The layers tried to put Kauto Star in as tight as 2-5 and 4-9 earlier in the week, but few were ever going to play at those odds, with Paul Nicholls’ eight-year-old having plenty of questions to answer.

Hardly surprisingly, he began to ease a bit and 1-2 became available in the shops and there was 8-15 on Betfair.

Just how he will now travel in the market from this point is anybody’s guess. In theory, he is head and shoulders above the opposition, but Kauto was nowhere near his best towards the end of last season and two of his below-par performances have never been adequately explained.

For instance his final outing at Aintree was rather disappointing. Kauto was six lengths clear when blundering two out and then, alarmingly, began to run up and down literally on the same spot on the run-in.

He actually traded at 1-14 on Betfair entering the closing stages of that contest, but was grabbed on the line and beaten a nose by Our Vic.

That followed on a really poor effort, by the horse’s particularly high standards, behind Denman in the Gold Cup at Cheltenham.

Those of us who felt he would sweep by Denman in the closing stages knew that was not going to happen with a fulll circuit to travel.

Kauto never travelled or jumped with any great fluency and it was just raw courage which saw him only seven lengths adrift of Denman at the end.

Mind you prior to Cheltenham he did produce some brilliant displays, winning a Grade 1 in a canter at Ascot and slamming Our Vic by 11 lengths in the King George at Kempton.

Kauto did get beaten first time out last season, but lost little or nothing in that defeat-at Aintree.

He went under by a length and a half to Monet’s Garden, but was trying to concede his rival no less than 14lbs.

The Listener and Snowy Morning have to be regarded as the most interesting challengers. We know The Listener is below top class, but small fields, heavy ground and Ireland are his ideal ingredients.

His last visit to this country saw him win the Hennessy at Leopardstown in Febuary by a clear margin from Nicholls’ Turko and Snowy Morning.

Willie Mullins now has high hopes for Snowy Morning, having seen his charge round of last season with two smashing efforts.

For such a young and relatively inexperienced horse, he finished a cracking third behind Comply Or Die in the Aintree Grand National and, you would have thought, that should have been it.

But he turned up at the Punchestown Festival to chase home Neptune Collonges in the Grade 1 Guinness Gold Cup.

The race, anyway, simply centres on which Kauto Star turns up. Come Saturday, he is going to have be the choice, given the positive noises which are currently emanating from the Nicholls camp regarding his current well-being.

But win or lose, it’s going to be fascinating and an early indication as to why this jumping game excites us in a manner in which the flat never will.

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YOU would have to wonder if those who put on the so-called industry day at Limerick on Tuesday have ever actually attended one of these meetings.

Limerick has developed into a smashing go-ahead track, which is once again set to play an invaluable role through the winter.

The card foisted on them two days ago, however, was nothing short of a joke, with four handicaps on a six-race all-flat programme.

Only 21 bookmakers stood, but they good-humouredly scrapped for the morsels on offer from the sparse attendance.

Limerick wasn’t out of pocket, the €30,000 or so that courses get from SIS saw to that. Industry days provide ordinary horses with much-needed opportunities and we have no problem grasping such a concept.

But surely some imagination should be used when forming the programmes. I mean what would have been so wrong with finishing with a bumper on Tuesday? It would have given punters, on and off track, the chance to get out of trouble and Limerick might even have doubled the crowd.


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