News broke yesterday of the sad loss of Kauto Star after a freak accident in the field.
His rider Laura Collett said: “I’m devastated to announce Kauto Star sustained injury in the field, and with his best interest at heart a decision was made to put him to sleep. It's just horrendous. He was out in the same field he was out in every day. We don't really know what happened, but he injured his neck and pelvis.”
Owner Clive Smith told BBC Radio 5 live: “It is really devastating - he was looking fit and well at Laura Collett's yard. The main injury was to the neck, as it gets worse it attacks the spinal cord. He also fractured his pelvic bone. The vets made him comfortable but the kindest thing was to euthanize him. It was a horrible moment. He was such a wonderful horse, but he did not suffer.”
Smith reflected on Kauto’s amazing career, saying: “He's been a fantastic horse and when you think back about how brave he was, he had the heart of a lion. He was so brave, he had everything really. He was the complete racehorse. I have so many great memories; after all he won 16 Grade 1 chases. He was an absolutely incredible horse with a lot of speed, winning over two miles in Tingle Creeks, then right up to the Gold Cups, which he needed a lot of stamina for. He had a beautiful nature and he will be sadly missed by a lot more people than you could ever imagine."
His trainer through those glorious years was Ditcheat handler Paul Nicholls. He spoke of the loss: “It's obviously a very sad day and very sad news to take on board. I'm obviously mortified. I saw him every day and he was a great horse in every way. When he left, it was obviously a big hole we had to fill in everybody's lives. He'd been so good for racing and so good for everybody. When something like this happens it's awfully sad, but sometimes things are unavoidable.”
Nicholls went on to speak of the latter years when many thought Kauto’s ability to be waning: “Even after he was written off, to come back and win his fourth Betfair Chase and a fifth King George said everything about him. He was just an amazing horse. Winning the Gold Cup was brilliant, but the two days that really stand out for me are the day at Haydock and the day at Kempton.”
The master of Ditcheat believes his pride and joy may have won a third Cheltenham Gold Cup in his final year had his preparation been smoother. “We never stopped learning about him and I think we had him at his best in the very last year he ran,” said Nicholls. “It was such a tragedy that he fell schooling before going to try to win a third Gold Cup as he was probably in the form of his life. That wasn't to be. He lived on the edge a little; he was one of those sorts of horses.”
Many have paid tribute to the wonderful horse. Robert Waley-Cohen, the owner of Long Run, one of Kauto Star's great rivals, described him as “the outstanding horse of our time”. He said: “His record speaks for itself. He was astonishingly versatile, sound and not short of talent. He was the outstanding horse of our time. For me his most outstanding performances were when he came back to win the Betfair Chase and King George in his final season having looked like he had gone off the boil. The team down at Ditcheat did a great job to bring him back for those wins.”
Ruby Walsh was fortunate to be on-board for many of those great occasions in Britain and in Ireland, and believes he should go down as one of the greatest National Hunt horses of all time. He said in his Paddy Power blog: “Kauto Star was a superstar and it’s a real shame that his life off the track has been cut short. He was a wonderful horse to ride and he gave me some of the best days I’ll ever have as a jockey. He was without a doubt the best chaser I’ve ever ridden – a horse in a lifetime. I’ll never ride one as good as him again. How could you? Just look at his record.”
That record was indeed hard to comprehend. In the 2006/07 season Kauto opened by winning the Old Roan Chase at Aintree before victory in the Betfair Chase over three miles at Haydock. He followed that with a thumping success in the Tingle Creek at Sandown when dropped back to two miles. He then stepped up to win the King George at Kempton before winning a thriller in the Aon Chase at Newbury. A month later he completed a sensational season with victory in the Gold Cup at Cheltenham.
Kauto became very much the ‘Peoples Champion’. Longevity at the very top of the sport aided his rise in popularity. But not only was Kauto a class apart, he had the guts to match. He was a horse that answered every call, and those lucky enough to witness that famous win at Haydock in 2011 will never forget the outpouring of emotion that greeted him in the winner’s enclosure.
Kauto was the horse of a generation; the greatest chaser of the modern era; a superstar of the sport. To those who were closest to the Great Champion; Clive Smith, Laura Collett, Paul Nicholls and Clifford Baker, we send our wholehearted sympathies.