This corner posted a tweet not so long ago: “Utterly bizarre to see Paul Nicholls and Clive Smith falling out at this stage. If true, it shows how fickle people can be”. Unfortunately, it did turn out to be true. And the feelings in this seat are the same as when the story initially surfaced.
Kauto Star was the best National Hunt horse of his generation. Nicholls, Smith and Ruby Walsh were lucky to live the dream of being involved with the horse that many of us would give the one working arm to be involved in for just a day.
The story begins, however, with renowned bloodstock agent Anthony Bromley. It was through him that the owner acquired the animal and that he was sent to Ditcheat for what turned out to be an utterly brilliant career. Of course, as with all things in racing, it wouldn’t have been possible had the owner not stumped up the cash and purchased the animal.
Yours truly has been involved in and around horses in a small way in recent years and one thing you learn very quickly is that, if you’re paying someone to do a job, it’s best to let them at it. They generally know best and don’t like being told what to do. Indeed, from experience, it can be relayed that some trainers – when dealing with a syndicate of owners – will only work with an appointed spokesperson for the group.
Clive Smith was an extremely lucky man to own a horse of such class. Don’t forget, he also had another fairly useful steed called Master Minded. To most of us, winning a low grade maiden or handicap hurdle would be our Gold Cup. Yet here was a man with the artillery to go for – and more often than not successfully plunder – some of the greatest prizes the sport had to offer.
To my mind though, the largest lot of kudos for any success enjoyed in racing must go the trainer. Yes, the owner the owner doles out the dough, but, a certain level of trainer could have a very useful horse on their hands and end up making a complete bags of it. Contrast that to the way Willie Mullins has guided Arvika Ligeonniere back from serious injury to a breathtaking success in the Drinmore Novice Chase. And who knows what’s to come from the French bred in future.
Think, too, about how Jim Dreaper got Cadogan back on the track after four years off to win three times. Or Noel Meade nursing both Pandorama and Thegreatjohnbrowne back towards action. Doing so takes knowhow and skill. Not to mention no little patience. Most pointed of all, however, have been the amount of horses to have improved almost beyond recognition on transferring from smaller establishments to some of the top ones.
All of which was mentioned because it only serves to underline how odd, and frankly sad, it is to see such bitterness develop between Smith and Nicholls at the end of the superstar animals career. Nicholls and Kauto, to my mind, are equal in their stardom. For it was the handler’s training of, care for and management of the horse that made his glorious career and all the joy his owner undoubtedly derived from same possible. The whole sorry affair smacks of eaten bread being soon forgotten. In one sense of course it was Smith’s decision what the horse did in retirement, but, as well as it being a nice touch for Kauto if he was to be left at Ditcheat in retirement – as Harchibald was for a while at least with Meade – I’d be swayed by the trainer’s thoughts. Thus, if Nicholls felt the horse wasn’t suitable for a career in dressage, his word would be taken for it and the horse would be left be.
One cannot help feeling that the owner will end up being the big loser here. The reputation of the horse won’t be tarnished, nor will that of the trainer. You wonder was everything achieved – which many of us would give anything for just one day of – really appreciated?