01/14/2011 5:24PM

Kauto Star Aims at History Books


On Saturday at Kempton Park just south of London, Kauto Star will challenge the legendary Desert Orchid when he attempts to win the King George VI Chase for the fifth time.

England's second most prestigious steeplechase after the Cheltenham Gold Cup, the King George was originally scheduled to be run as it always is on Boxing Day, the mysterious holiday the British celebrate on the day after Christmas, ostensibly to box presents for the postman and the milkman, but in recent years used as an excuse to watch Premier League soccer matches on the telly. But the turf course at Kempton was frozen solid that day and the next, forcing postponement of the meeting to this Saturday.

The delay allowed Desert Orchid to remain in a tie with Kauto Star as the only horse to win the 3-mile King George four times. "Dessie", as he was affectionately known by his adoring fans, won it in 1986 and then three years in succession form 1988 through 1990, his last victory coming at the age of 11. That is the age that Kauto Star turned on New Year's Day, but in effect he will be nearly a year younger than Desert Orchid was when he won his fourth King George.

Desert Orchid failed in his attempt to win a fifth King George in 1991 when he fell in a race won by his French archrival The Fellow. Falling is the problem Kauto Star suffered last March 19 when attempting to win his third Cheltenham Gold Cup. Trained by Britain's leading jumps trainer Paul Nicholls, the gelded son of the French-bred Village Star has had just a single outing since then, that at Down Royal in Ireland where he won the Grade 1 Champion Chase on November 6 over the same 3-mile trip as the King George.

Kauto Star's dominance of the King George, named for the man who is the subject of the hot Oscar contender "The King's Speech", is extraordinary. Whereas it took Desert Orchid five years to win his four King Georges, Kauto Star has won the last four runnings in succession. In 2006 he won it by 8 lengths, in 2007 by 11 lengths, in 2008 by 8 lengths again, and in 2009 by an astounding 36 lengths. Runners-up Madison du Berlais (2009) and Albertas Run (2008) will try him again on Saturday, as will six others, yet Kauto Star is likely to be sent off at something like 4-6, and deservedly so.

Second in his debut at Bordeaux on March 1, 2003 (the only time he ran on the flat), Kauto Star has since compiled a 21-for-34 record over jumps. Over fences he is 17-for-25, 14 of those victories coming in Grade 1 events.

Trained early in his career by Serge Foucher in France where his best effort was a Grade 3 hurdle score at Auteuil in his French farewell on May 30, 2004, Kauto Star is part of the great tsunami of French imports that have come to dominate British jump racing in recent years. He landed a Grade 3 event in his first start in England at Newbury on December 29, 2004 in what was also his chasing debut, and he has not looked back since.

The ground will be sluggish at Kempton on Saturday, but neither Nicholls nor his rider Tony McCoy, the man who is has been champion jumps rider in Britain in each of the last 15 years, is concerned. Kauto Star has won on very soft ground in France, England and Ireland, so the going will hold no terrors for him. Nicholls will also saddle the progressive 8-year-old The Nightingale, another French-bred who won last time out at Down Royal on Nov. 6 in a 2 1/2-mile Grade 2 chase.

In fact, five of the nine starters in the King George will be French-breds, among them Long Run, the winner of a Grade 2 novice chase over the King George course and distance on Boxing Day, 2009.

A non-French-bred danger comes in the form of the Irish-bred Forpadydeplasterer. The luckless 9-year-old has finished second in his last seven starts, and in ten of his last 11 starts, all of them Grade 1 or Grade 2 chases. His lone score during that period, which dates back to November 30, 2008, came in Cheltenham's prestigious 2-mile Arkle Trophy Challenge Chase in March 2009.

While Kauto Star is in the twilight of his great career, his 5-year-old half brother Kauto Stone has the future at his beckon call back in France. A son of the Kentucky-bred stallion With The Flow, Kauto Stone landed his first Grade 1 triumph last time out at Auteuil in the 2 3/4-mile Prix Maurice de Gillois, also known as the Grand Steeple-Chase des 4 Ans, i.e., the Grand Steeplechase for 4-year-olds. And he won it on the front end by a Kauto Star-like 6 lengths.

That victory came on November 7 and completed a rare Group/Grade 1 weekend double for his late dam Kauto Relka. The day before Kauto Star had kicked off the family celebration with his victory in Down Royal's Champion Chase. When a mare can produce Group or Grade 1 winners on consecutive days, it is something to make note of. That is the kind of family Kauto Star comes from.