Posted by Tania Kindersley.
Just as I sat down to write the blog last night, all filled with The Cousin’s birthday, I saw the news on Twitter that Kauto Star had suffered a fall in training, and was doubtful for the Gold Cup.
I felt as sick and sorry as if it had been my own little mare, the one I have been riding each morning for the last two weeks. It’s an odd, dual feeling. There is the crashing regret that I think anyone might feel when a great athlete they admire undergoes an injury. It’s a sadness from afar. The champion exists on the mountain top; I only watch from the foothills.
But because I love horses, and because I have been living with horses here in the south, and because I am growing increasingly connected to one horse, also a gentle thoroughbred, there was an extra empathy, a disproportionate whack to the stomach. When I read that he had fallen in training, I could almost hear the crunch, feel the heavy thud of a half a ton of horse hitting the earth.
The birthday was still going on, when I got the news. I did not write anything here, or say anything to the Cousin. It was her special day, and I did not want to put the mockers on it. I attempted to call in the perspective police: it is only a horse, whom I have never met.
But the melancholy lingers. He may shrug off the stiffness, get fit enough for his final blue riband. After the first shock and sorrow, my raging optimistic instinct kicked in. He’s a horse in a generation; he’s as brave and bold and strong as the steeliest lion; he has a heart the size of twenty houses.
My fantastic, romantic, narrative sense went into overdrive: this will be the story of the century. Not only was he written off at the beginning of the season, not only was he considered too old, past his prime, but just at the moment when people thought he could break all records by winning his third Gold Cup, this happened. If he could come back from this and storm up that hill, then I never need watch a race again. It would be every fairy tale in the world, rolled into one, glorious, impossible story. People would talk to their children and grandchildren of it, for years to come.
Then, the low, rational, realistic mind asserted itself. Horses come back from falls all the time. The racehorse, despite being a finely bred creature, is also tough as nails. But, like humans, they are tough when they are young. A seven-year-old can get bashed about a bit, and recover quickly, the scars of battle healing, the stretches and strains knitting back to wholeness. At the age of twelve, which is sure veteran country, a horse is slower to get back on his feet. Two weeks is not long. It may be the end of the road for this fine, brilliant creature.
The thing which has marked Kauto Star this season is his joy in racing. I have watched his victories at Haydock and Kempton over and over, not just because he was magnificent, but because he was having so much fun.
I’m not sure I ever saw an animal delight in his galloping and jumping so much, not since the wild days of Desert Orchid. It sounds fanciful, but I have wondered whether he beat Long Run because he broke the younger horse’s heart, just a little. It was something in the joyous, dancing way that Kauto ran his last two races, which even the determination and gift of Long Run could not match.
Even if they could, by some miracle, get Kauto Star fit enough for the last day of the festival, the danger is that that rampant joy would be gone. There would be the sense memory of his training fall, instead of the muscle memory of the soaring leaps that won him the prize last time out. He is an extraordinary horse, but he is also a sensible horse; he might just decide, quite rightly, that the giddy fun was no longer there. He might take it easy, take it slow, be cautious and careful. The heedlessness might be gone.
It is hard to judge the mind of an animal, especially one which owes so much to its wild, herd heritage. Anthropomorphism is bred of human sentiment, of category errors; it is also not useful, in this context. On the other hand, anyone who has ever worked with horses will tell you that they remember. Even if Kauto is back to fighting strength, which would be a training feat in itself, will he remember the dull Friday at home when he tumbled, or the arching triumph in December, when he made history?
He owes us nothing, not one damn thing. He has done more than any other horse in the last twenty years. He has thrilled and soared.
He has made me cry, laugh, shout, roar, stamp and jump. He has made the Pigeon bark her head off and shoot vertically into the air. He has won me ready cash.
Cheltenham this year will not be the same without him; it will be a drabber, poorer place. (Oddly, I sometimes think of the world like that, without my old dad in it, and he was a little bit of a racing legend too, in his own way.)
If it should be time for the auld fella to go out in the field with the sun on his back, it is the very least he deserves. Even if my fairy tale heart whispers, oh, oh, if only.
A couple of lovely Kauto pictures for you -
Winning The Gold Cup:
Photograph uncredited, from Sportinglife.com.
Look at those front legs. Hard to believe that a horse that can do this could make a schooling error. But they are fallible creatures, not machines:
Photograph by the Press Association.
With his trainer, Paul Nicholls. That man would never let harm come to that horse. Whatever decision he makes will be the right one, for the right reasons:
My own daily ride. Not quite as grand, but very, very dear:
She doesn't look bad, does she, considering she's just come out of the muddy field?
Some garden colour:
The Pigeon, doing her sphinx number:
Then turning, and looking quizzically, as I dawdle behind, as if to say Are you coming?
Just spoke to my mother. Her fervent wish is that Kauto Star will now retire, and we can remember the glory days, and spend future weeks watching old victories. I sort of know she is quite right, but I can't help but dream of one, last, glorious time.