NOW here’s a good pub quiz question. Apart from Kauto Star and Imperial Commander, which two horses have won the Betfair Chase? Not easy, is it? So you’d better read on… There have only been seven runnings of the Betfair but the Grade One contest is firmly established as one of the major early season trials for both the King George and the Cheltenham Gold Cup.
The inaugural winner of the Betfair Chase was… (yes, you’d forgotten hadn’t you) Kingscliff. This big, raw-boned gelding was ridden by Robert Walford and outgunned both Beef Or Salmon and that year’s Gold Cup winner Kicking King. Kingscliff, a former pointer, was well backed to bag the £1million bonus put up by the sponsors for also winning the King George and Gold Cup in the same season. But he flopped in the King George and finished 10th to War Of Attrition in the Gold Cup. Amazingly, Kingscliff never won another race after the Betfair and he would not be the first horse whose form dramatically tailed off after tackling the race…
In 2006 Kauto Star won the first of his four Betfair Chases with a facile 17-length victory over Beef Or Salmon and he repeated the dose in 2007 beating the admirable Exotic Dancer by half a length. Talking of Exotic Dancer, check out this poignant YouTube tribute to one of the best horses never to win the Cheltenham Gold Cup. Much was made about the appearance of My Way De Solzen in the 2007 race and he was strongly fancied on his favoured soft ground to topple Kauto Star. But he was firmly put in his place and was never the same horse afterwards. In fact Alan King later admitted that he never got to the bottom of the horse’s sudden demise because until Haydock he had looked every inch a future Gold Cup winner.
In 2008 we saw another dramatic finish when Kauto Star at 2/5 got rid of Sam Thomas at the last while upsides the leaders. Would he have won? Probably. But he wasn’t travelling too well. Make your own mind up by watching the race here. On the run-in Snoopy Loopy (the other answer to the quiz question) stayed on to nail Tamarinbleu at odds of 33/1 to give Seamus Durack and trainer Peter Bowen a famous victory. Funnily enough, Snoopy Loopy never won another race, although he did run a gallant third in the Hennessy a week later.
In 2009 Kauto Star got the better of Imperial Commander by a nose in a marvellous ding-dong finish, which you can relive here They had good horses like Madison Du Berlais and Halcon Genelardais a country mile behind.
In the absence of Kauto Star, Imperial Commander gained compensation by winning the 2010 renewal from Tidal Bay and Planet Of Sound. But my best Betfair Chase memory came last year when Kauto Star, who had been written off by many as being past his best, floated over the Haydock fences to put Long Run in his place in a thrilling race and gain his fourth Betfair. I don’t think there was a dry eye in the house and his spring-heeled leap at the last will live long in the memory. Watch that marvellous race here
This Saturday’s Betfair Chase is building up nicely. Long Run will try to re-establish himself as the number one chaser but will have to contend with the new kid on the block, Silviniaco Conti. Then there is the return of Imperial Commander. What a story it would be if the Commander could recapture his best form. He does go well fresh! Throw in Gold Cup runner-up The Giant Bolster and Weird Al and you have a race full of quality.
But although he has been retired, this Saturday will once again be all about Kauto Star. He will parade before the race and a statue will be unveiled of the great horse. Fitting tributes indeed. Maybe the sponsors should consider naming the race after the great horse? What do you think?