Kempton legend Kauto Star is remembered on Wednesday as the land's finest novice chasers do battle in the Grade 1 Kauto Star Novices' Chase.
Run over 3m, this £100,000 test is poised to tell us just what chance RSA Chase favourite Santini has at the Cheltenham Festival in March, as the six-year-old is no bigger than 13/8 favourite to win this Christmas, maintaining his unbeaten record over fences.
It is Britain’s biggest Grade 1 chase for novices over the festive period, and used to be known as the Feltham Novices’ Chase, until it was renamed in memory of the great Kauto Star – who loved nothing better than flying around Kempton.
With six of the last 10 RSA Chase winners being trained across the water in Ireland, the Kauto Star Novices' Chase doesn't actually have a great trend for producing winners of that Cheltenham Festival race, but in the same period it has been won by two Gold Cup winners: Long Run and Coneygree.
In addition, trainer Nicky Henderson, who saddles Santini, does tend to test his RSA Chase winners in the race, with Might Bite running in 2016 before winning at Cheltenham in 2017, and Bobs Worth doing likewise before his RSA Chase win in 2012.
As a well-established race, there are plenty of valuable Kauto Star Novices' Chase trends to delve into. Eight of the last 11 winners were aged either six or seven, with the exception being Annacotty in 2011.
It’s not been a favourites benefit race – four of the last 11 have won – however, eight winner were in the top three in the betting. Previous course form has been beneficial as three winners had at least one previous run at Kempton, so it is something to note. Also graded form is a key point – seven winners in recent times had graded form.
Santini, who made a perfect start to life over fences for Nicky Henderson, is of course the clear favourite in the Kauto Star Novices' Chase betting. The Sefton Novices' Hurdle winner had already been on many people’s lists for the RSA Chase after his impressive win on chasing debut at Newbury, when he fought hard to get the better of the Rocky’s Treasure.
Now he stands tall over this field, but two things to note; the sharper track, and the potentially quicker ground do raise questions? William Hill make him a 13/8 shot but that does look a tad too skinny so I'd look a bit further down the betting for a bet.
Topofthegame (NAP) has always been seen as a chaser in the making and the Coral Cup second made a fine start to his new career when second to the very smart novice Defi Du Seuil.
That was one of the strongest novice chases of the season, but remarkably he got within three and a half lengths of the winner, despite losing 20 lengths – and the race – at the start.
Had he gone off with the field, he may have won quite handily, and now the step up to 3m ought to bring out the very best in him – as it did when he won the Heroes Handicap Hurdle at Sandown in February. He will serve it up to the favourite and could well be the bet of the race at 4/1 with Bet365.
Chef Des Obeaux (25/1 Coral) is also trained by Nicky Henderson, but he disappointed big time at both Cheltenham and Aintree over hurdles last season, and was not particularly eye-catching on his chase debut.
Putting that all aside, the step up in trip in the Kauto Star Novices' Chase could bring improvement - and he did look very exciting last season before reaching the festivals. Odds of 25/1 look rather generous and he is worth an each-way nibble.
The top mare La Bague Au Roi (11/2 William Hill) is unbeaten in two races over fences and was a wildly impressive winner of the Berkshire Novices’ Chase at Newbury last time out. She will most likely provide the chief opposition to the favourite and has plenty of tactical speed.
The World’s End (11/1 Bet365) is much more of a thorough stayer, but he was impressive at Cheltenham when taking advantage of Lil Rockerfeller’s fall to comprehensively reverse previous form with Ibis Du Rheu.
In doing so, he looked much more like the horse that had impressed so much as a novice hurdler, before a disappointing season in open company last year. If that is his true form then he has still got more to give, but one wonders if Kempton will be his track?
Bags Groove (5/1 Ladbrokes), a past Kempton winner, brought up an impressive hat-trick over fences at Huntingdon last time and appears to be on the up. He is gifted with more natural cruising speed than many of the leading contenders so will be hoping for a dry Christmas period.
Henderson has another potential contender in the shape of Mr Whipped (10/1 Ladbrokes), who was a good third on debut at Cheltenham before grinding home at Haydock in very testing ground.
He was fancied to win that day, getting 5lbs from the runner up, but he had more in hand than the winning margin showed although he probably needs to improve still.
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