Paul Nicholls knows how to train a racehorse to win the King George VI Chase at Kempton Park. Silviniaco Conti won the race for the second time on Boxing Day. And looking on was former stablemate Kauto Star. Or at least a statue of the 5 time winner of this traditional post Christmas fixture.
Kauto Star for real was paraded earlier in the day. A superb statue of him was unveiled. Charlie Langton created the statue. He said: ‘The over life-size sculpture took around three and half months to sculpt. I used over a ton of clay over the top of a steel framework.
‘I also sought the advice of John Francome, who very kindly spared his time to come and see the sculpture developing. Once we were happy with the clay version, it was moulded over the course of 10 days and then cast in bronze. The casting took about four months, so combined with the sculpting time, the piece took about eight months to complete (or about 900 hours).’
In the week when a video of Kauto Star refusing to perform dressage at Olympia upset me, it lifted my spirits to see the real Kauto Star looking around him at Kempton Park as much to say: “This is where I belong, let me race again.” Of course, he cannot. But I do wish owner Clive Smith had not sent Kauto Star into the dressage sphere. I’ve nothing against that sport, far from it. But Kauto Star looked so unhappy at Olympia. He really should have been allowed to retire and spend his days in a field close to his former home at Ditcheat, the stables of Paul Nicholls.
But Nicholls and Smith fell out big time and I know those who work at the Ditcheat yard miss Kauto Star and are, like many followers of racing, saddened to see what has become of him.
But, as is to be expected, the so called team Ditcheat moves on and, in Silviniaco Conti, they have another star turn. Prior to the start to finish win at Kempton on Boxing Day, ‘Conti’ had been damned with faint praise. So many in the sport were unconvinced by his claims to become a great thoroughbred and a consistent winner.
The doubters are silenced. Silviniaco Conti is the real deal.
Nicholls has now trained a horse to win the King George nine times. He said post race: “He jumps and he gallops and we kept it simple. I knew he would gallop and stay and we decided to make it a proper test of stamina. The cheekpieces have helped him, he can be a bit lazy and they have really woken him up.
“See More Business won the King George twice and went on to win a Gold Cup and I hope this fellow can go on and put the big one on his CV.
“When he jumped the last in front I was astounded he didn’t go on and win last season’s Gold Cup, but then after he ran at Aintree we found he had gastric ulcers. In fact there were various things we had to iron out and put right last year and the result is that he’s come back a stronger and better horse.
“I felt he needed the cheekpieces to help him concentrate and they have made a huge difference. Today he jumped soundly and only got tight to the one down the far side. Otherwise he was foot-perfect. All he needed was one kick in the belly from Noel and he was away.
“Whether he runs again before Cheltenham is very much undecided, but all he does is stay and the Gold Cup is his number one target.
“Longer term I would love to see him come back here and give us the magic 10 King George wins. I can’t believe how lucky we’ve been to do so well in this race and I have to again give credit to my head lad Clifford Baker.”
That’s what life is all about at Manor Farm Stables. Teamwork is the secret to success for Paul Nicholls.
No trainer has success without having a dedicated staff, all pulling together to get the very best from their stable of horses. I’ve seen Ditcheat at work and I am full of admiration for the stable boys and girls who work there.
This season was meant to be one of transition for the Nicholls string. The likes of Kauto Star and Denman had retired and it will take time for the young ones to mature into big race winners. But Silviniaco Conti picked up the baton from those who went before and ran with it.
Ante-post, Silviniaco Conti is best price 9/2 to win the Cheltenham Gold Cup in March. Former winner of that race, Bobs Worth, is 11/1. That’s a big price and one that will shrink considerably should Bobs Worth win the Lexus Chase in Ireland on Sunday.
I’ve had a rare ante-post bet on Silviniaco Conti to win the Gold Cup. Ground on the soft side of ‘good’ will be crucial come the festival in March and he’ll have to improve again to achieve what would be a memorable victory for a man who prepares his horses well and then sends them out to do battle. He doesn’t wrap them in cotton wool. Thoroughbreds are bred to race, not stay at home.
Kauto Star made Paul Nicholls famous. And Nicholls made sure Kauto Star will be remembered for all time.
Next March, at Cheltenham, Silviniaco Conti will have the opportunity to prove beyond all doubt that he is a worthy successor.