Trainer Paul Nicholls has been “astounded” by the achievements of Kauto Star this season as the legend of the turf prepares to run in an incredible sixth Betfred Cheltenham Gold Cup.
The 12-year-old has been taken to the hearts of the National Hunt fraternity like no other since Desert Orchid, and is on Friday set for a mouthwatering rematch with last year’s Gold Cup winner Long Run.
Having looked on the verge of retirement when pulling up at Punchestown last May, Nicholls has coaxed Kauto Star back to his brilliant best this term by plundering a fourth Betfair Chase and a record-breaking fifth King George.
Long Run was left trailing in his wake on both occasions.
And after having recovered from a schooling fall two weeks ago, Nicholls is now delighted with the veteran chaser, who became the first horse to reclaim the Gold Cup in 2009.
“Kauto has astounded us this year and he now seems in really good form,” said the Ditcheat handler.
“He ran really well at Haydock, when Long Run came to him and he completely outstayed him, and his performance at Kempton in the King George was incredible.
“It’s a different track at Cheltenham, but if he runs to the form of Kempton and Haydock then he has a massive chance.
“His record speaks for itself and it would be awesome for everyone involved if he could win another Gold Cup.
“If he wins, then great, but if not, he’s 12 and he has been the most fantastic horse to train.”
Jockey Ruby Walsh has been amazed by Kauto Star’s recovery since his schooling fall, but is aware Long Run is “a very strong stayer”.
Walsh said: “He seems very well again and they’ve done a great job with him.
“He’s beaten Long Run twice this season but Long Run is a very strong stayer.
“We’ve seen what form Nicky Henderson’s horses are in this week so he’s going to be very hard to beat.”
Nicholls also runs What A Friend, part-owned by Sir Alex Ferguson, who finished fourth last year.
“What A Friend is a big each-way price and could finish third or fourth,” added Nicholls.