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Kauto Star win would be golden moment

By Sue Montgomery

With 64 days to go, the countdown to the Gold Cup can officially start.

The entries were made yesterday, 34 of them, and all the names that should be there are, no ghastly errors of omission.

Kauto Star, already the first horse to regain the Cheltenham crown, can go for a unique three in five years, while his great rival Long Run can bid to redeem his reputation as the future of this particular branch of the sport.

And away from the pair who top the market — last year's winner Long Run is 11-4 with race sponsors Betfred, Kauto Star 4-1 — are developing several other vignettes.

Fans of the novice Grand Crus, who won the Feltham Chase at Kempton on Boxing Day in a faster time than did Kauto Star the King George VI Chase over the same three miles, can rest easy that he is in the field, and even easier to know that they could get their ante-post money back if he does not run.

Should the David Pipe-trained grey stick to the company of his peers in the RSA Chase, the Betfred operation, which make him |8-1 third favourite, will refund Gold Cup bets.

As back-up to Kauto Star, Paul Nicholls' bench comprises a cluster of outsiders in Poquelin, The Minack, Tidal Bay and last year's fourth What A Friend.

Nicky Henderson, trainer of Long Run, has two in reserve in Burton Port and yesterday's one rather surprising nomination, Finian's Rainbow.

Though the nine-year-old was in command when falling at the last in a three-mile point-to-point earlier in his career, all his eight victories have come at around two miles and, indeed, he is third favourite for the Champion Chase.

The Irish, who have not had a horse placed in a Gold Cup since War Of Attrition won it six years ago, have eight possibilities to end the drought.

One of the most intriguing among them is Quel Esprit, always highly regarded by Willie Mullins but who failed to complete any of his three top-level runs last term. The nine-year-old, who has had two successful confidence-builders this season, can be backed at 40-1.

An even longer shot, 100-1 chance China Rock, is set to run at Punchestown on Saturday, his first race since stem cell treatment for a leg injury.

Those whom top-class chasers leave cold at any time, let alone during a chilly January, can bask this afternoon in Flat warmth at Meydan, where only the most parochial will ignore the Dubai International Carnival that culminates in the planet's richest race, the Dubai World Cup, in March.

One of today's contests, the UAE Guineas Trial, features a few names on the fringe of elite class, colts whose performances can be linked to the very best.

Kinglet, for instance, beat subsequent close Dewhurst Stakes third Most Improved on his debut and holds a Derby entry.

Having proved a frustrating sort in the first half of the season, Rathlin finally opened his account for Mouse Morris in yesterday's novice chase at Fairyhouse.

Betfair last night announced that punters who backed Voler La Vedette before the technology failure in their controversial in-running market on the Christmas Hurdle at Leopardstown last month will be paid out.

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