Magazine article The Spectator

Star Crossed

Magazine article The Spectator

Star Crossed

Article excerpt

'Why should those of 60-plus use valet parking?' inquired one of my Christmas cracker mottos. 'Because valets don't forget where they park your car.' Life does catch up on you, as I recently discovered when my son beat me 3-0 at table tennis despite the secret training session I had sneakily put in before we knocked up. (In the Oakley household table tennis is not a gentle ping pong: it more closely resembles war to the death. ) What really stung was his gracious reference afterwards to how the results used to be the other way round, even if only by a point a game, and to the inevitability of the ageing process.

Had poor Kauto Star understood human speech he would have felt much the same after coming home third in the King George at Kempton Park last Saturday, 19 lengths behind Long Run, the new kid on the block.

'Ah, well, there's an end to every good thing, ' some of the 15,000 spectators around me were saying. 'What can you expect from an 11-year-old?' said others, or 'I'm glad I saw him in his prime.'

Most of the 15,000, like me, had turned up hoping to see a horse who had already equalled Desert Orchid's record of four victories in the King George score a fifth consecutive win. But Kauto Star was never travelling with his usual ease and from a long way out Tony McCoy was working hard to keep him in the race. He might well have finished second but for a tired horse's blunder at the second-last but was never going to beat Long Run, whose amateur rider Sam Waley-Cohen had got the six-year-old into a wonderful rhythm and whose mind was kept fully on the job with the assistance of a set of smart blue earplugs.

In steeplechasing terms, Long Run, though coming from France with a formidable reputation, is still a baby and yet he appeared to enjoy every minute of the race.

Wisely, his trainer had told Sam WaleyCohen, 'It doesn't matter where you are as long as you keep him relaxed' - and he could not have done that better.

After the race Kauto Star's trainer Paul Nicholls was his usual honest, measured self, insisting that he could not have been happier with his horse's preparation and that Kauto Star had simply been beaten by a better horse on the day. He added, 'There's nothing different I can do. He's got older and maybe he's a little slower.'

For me it is much, much too early to start writing Kauto Star's racing obituary, especially as far as the Cheltenham Gold Cup is concerned. …

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