03/17/2010 11:00PM

Kauto Star shooting for third Cheltenham Gold Cup

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Kauto Star will attempt to become the first horse in history to win three Cheltenham Gold Cups in nonconsecutive years when he defends his title in the $725,000 steeplechase over 22 fences and 3 5/16 miles on Friday. A 10-year-old French-bred, Kauto Star also won jump racing's most coveted prize in 2007 but was defeated a year later by his Paul Nicholls-trained stablemate Denman.

Second in last year's renewal, Denman tries again on Friday, but on Feb. 13 he unseated his rider at the third-last fence in the Aon Chase at Newbury, 2 1/2 months after having won the Hennessy Gold Cup Chase at the same track. Kauto Star, meanwhile, has won both his starts this season, taking the Lancashire Chase at Haydock on Nov. 21 and the King George VI Chase at Kempton Park on Dec. 26 by an imperious 36 lengths.

The absence of nearly three months should not be a concern, as Kauto Star won last year's Gold Cup by 13 lengths off an eight-length victory in the King George. Ruby Walsh takes his usual place in the saddle, while Tony McCoy partners Denman.

Tricky Trickster, also trained by Nicholls, will need more than luck to repeat his Aon Chase victory, while Imperial Commander, just a nose second to Kauto Star in the Lancashire, was subsequently 64 lengths behind in the King George. The lone Irish invader, Cooldine, a winner at Cheltenham last March, prepped well when he was a neck second in Leopardstown's Hennessy Gold Cup Chase. Mon Mome is using the Gold Cup as a high-class prep for a defense of his Grand National title at Aintree on April 10.

Friday's card at Cheltenham will be televised by HRTV. First post is 9:30 Eastern. The Gold Cup itself goes off at 11:20 a.m.

* Master Minded, sent off at 4-5, failed in his attempt to win a third straight two-mile Queen Mother Champion Chase at Cheltenham on Wednesday. Trained by Paul Nicholls, he was in trouble a long way out and finished fourth, 9 3/4 lengths behind Irish raider Big Zeb, who gave his backers a happy St. Patrick's Day with a six-length, 10-1 victory over Forpadydeplasterer.