Champion trainer Paul Nicholls has revealed that Kauto Star was suffering from “inflammation and a low grade infection” when he ran below-par in finishing only third in last week’s William Hill King George VI Chase at Kempton Park, writes Elliot Slater.

A massive crowd showed up at Kempton and Channel 4 recorded their biggest ‘King George’ audience for many years as people waited to see if the 11-year-old could surpass the record of the great Desert Orchid and win a fifth successive renewal of the top grade Christmas chase. As it turned out Kauto Star was never travelling with his usual fluency and after coming under pressure after the fifth last was always fighting a losing battle against the far younger and upwardly mobile Long Run, who ran out a brilliant winner from stable companion Riverside Theatre, with Kauto Star back in third having survived a terrible blunder at the second from home.

Questions were raised in the immediate aftermath of his defeat as to whether the 14-time Grade 1 winner should be retired, but Nicholls was quick to make it clear that the Cheltenham 2011 Gold Cup was still very much the target. Now, following the confirmation that his stable star was a sick horse at Kempton, there is some cause for optimism that the French bred gelding is still far from being on the decline, and the Cheltenham Gold Cup betting odds make him far from being an outsider. Indeed, to finish third against two younger and highly talented performers when he was unwell and made that dreadful mistake two out, suggests that Kauto Star probably retains most, if not all his old ability.

A week on the easy-list should see Clive Smith’s pride and joy back to full fitness and he remains on course for Cheltenham where he is now quoted at a best price of 10/1 behind reigning champion Imperial Commander (7/2f), whilst Long Run can be backed at 7/1 in places.