By Ray Fleming

LONDON'S Kempton Park on Boxing Day, Cheltenham in March on Gold Cup day and Liverpool's Aintree for the Grand National -- these are the three great events of Britain's National Hunt racing season and the Kempton Park meeting lived up to expectations yesterday with the emphatic victory of the near-veteran Kauto Star in the King George VI Chase. It was his fifth in this prestigious race and to add to that unprecedented achievement, in beating Long Run he gained revenge on the horse which somewhat surprisingly won the race last year.

Kauto Star has the kind of following that Desert Orchid and Red Rum had in their prime. Although he was not the betting favourite to win, starting at a generous 3/1, the Kempton crowd of some twenty thousand gave him and his jockey Ruby Walsh a tremendous reception. Some of the horse's jumping was awesome, gaining one or two lengths in the air with perfectly measured judgement.

Yesterday's race showed one of the great attractions of National Hunt racing in comparison with flat racing. The best horses remain in training for many years and often renew competition on the course whereas a Derby winner is hurried to the stud almost as soon as he has passed the post at Epsom. Kauto Star is likely to reappear at Cheltenham to meet old rivals. Another great day in prospect.

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