Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Million Reasons Why King Can Land the Treble

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Million Reasons Why King Can Land the Treble

Article excerpt

Byline: GRAHAM CUNNINGHAM

IF you build it, they will come.

And if you add a [pounds sterling]1million bonus to sweeten the deal, then the biggest stars in the game will be knocking your door down.

Make no mistake, the sharp minds in Betfair's PR department have hit on a winner with the Betfair Million, which will be presented to any horse who succeeds in the small matter of landing next Saturday's Betfair Chase at Haydock before going on to win the King George and the Cheltenham Gold Cup.

Only a truly special horse could dream of showing the class and versatility to land all three and, as jump racing continues to adjust to the painful loss of Best Mate, who died of a heart attack while racing at Exeter at the beginning of the month, the team responsible for the heir to his Gold Cup crown can be forgiven for refusing to look too far down the line.

Trainer Tom Taaffe looks down the hill from his elegant white-walled Kildare house to the paddock where Kicking King spends his afternoons in the certain knowledge that no horse is ever immune to danger in a sport which sees an average of 250 horses killed in action every year.

But he also knows jump racing's inherent risks must be tackled face on if Kicking King is to prove a worthy successor to the horse whose death made the front page of nearly every major paper in Britain two weeks ago.

"What happened to Best Mate was terrible, but we know these are the risks of the game," he said.

"If everything goes to plan we will be aiming for the Betfair Million with Kicking King. A lot has to go right, of course, and winning it is a long way off, but it is possible with the right horse."

On a recent visit to Portree Stables, Taaffe's wife Elaine allowed herself to get a little more romantic while assessing the stable star.

"There's always been an element of fate or destiny about this fella," she said.

Destiny started on a cold day in January 2002 when the muscular Old Vic gelding made his debut. "I was dressed to go racing, but as we got there I went into labour," she said.

While Kicking King galloped to victory at Leopardstown, Mrs Taaffe dashed to the local maternity ward in a police car.

The arrival of baby Patrick sealed the first of a series of memorable days, culminating in a rampaging Gold Cup success which also sparked a trip down the aisle for Patrick's parents.

"We'd agreed to get married if we won at Cheltenham," Elaine said. "It happened seven weeks to the day after the Gold Cup and my ma said if she'd known that was the key she would have gone straight to the horse instead of going to Rome three times!"

Meanwhile, the male half of the Taaffe partnership reads little into the fact that Kicking King suffered a shock defeat by War Of Attrition at Punchestown on his reappearance. …

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