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Green, yellow and purple in abundance as fond memories return.

Byline: Steve Dennis

WE'RE going to have to start without them.

The two most important people - if I may take anthropomorphism to a new level - aren't here, although the night is in their honour. Kauto Star and Master Minded can't be with us tonight, ladies and gentlemen, so you'll have to make do with Clive Smith, Paul Nicholls, Ruby Walsh and the rest of the team. We'll manage.

Smith is a man who knows he's blessed and frequently counts those blessings. One, two. He owns Kauto Star and Master Minded, the two best horses to race over jumps last season, two of the best horses to race over jumps in any season, and to celebrate their achievements and spread the joy associated with the pair, Smith has thrown a party in their honour at Wentworth golf club.

He did the same two years ago, after Kauto Star's first Gold Cup, and that was reportedly such a success that this evening's events have something to live up to.

Wentworth has seen its share of fashion, thanks to the wardrobes of such as Ian Poulter and John Daly, but tonight the only thing to be seen in is the green, yellow and purple of Smith's racing silks. The champagne waiters wear the spotted jackets more readily associated with Walsh, while Smith is splendidly resplendent in a dark green waistcoat with yellow spots, a purple handkerchief peeping from his breast pocket. There is a green and yellow scarf around Nicholls' neck; Walsh is more soberly dressed but, then again, he has his fill of green and yellow throughout the season. It's his night off.

Most of those among the 100 or so present are Smith's friends from the business world and his golf buddies. The racing fraternity is outnumbered, but those who are there - apart from your gravytraining hack - are basking in the warmth of a year well done, all cogs in the workings of those two equine machines.

Jonathan Powell, of the Mail on Sunday, is master of ceremonies, seated on a dais in front of three King George VI Chase trophies, microphone in hand and not a scrap of yellow and green about him. Smith takes the floor to introduce the evening, embarking on a series of thanks for those whose efforts have made the evening possible..

There's Nicholls, whose eyebrows rise a notch when Smith forecasts that he'll end up with 24 trainers' championships instead of the four he already has. Then Nicholls' partner Georgina, Walsh, head man Clifford Baker, assistant trainer Dan Skelton, vet Buffy Shirley- Beavan, shopper supreme Anthony Bromley and Cheltenham supremo Edward Gillespie - thanks are apportioned, applause garnered, sheepish smiles displayed.

Powell regains the mike to usher in the real stars of the show. "Eleven minutes of sheer brilliance," he says, and the big television screens come alive with extended highlights of Kauto Star and Master Minded, from the Tingle Creek to the Champion Chase, from Down Royal to Kempton. Nothing new to the turfistes among the tables although evidently a first viewing for some, as a suppressed 'ooh' or two escape when Twist Magic hits the floor at Sandown.

The chance to watch these races again provides food for thought. The sight of Kauto Star striding away from the powerhouse of Denman with two to jump in the Gold Cup is redolent of the way Arkle disdainfully left Mill House behind in the same race 45 years earlier.

You would not put the two together, not without a fight, but the echoes linger.

Another image that sticks in the mind is Walsh's reaction to victory at Cheltenham. He pulls up Master Minded after the line with almost a blank expression on his face, as though he'd finished fourth in a handicap hurdle at Hereford. On Kauto Star, though, he wears a wide smile to go with his windmilling right arm.

After the pictures come the words, with Powell inviting Nicholls, Walsh and Smith up on to the stage in turn. Nicholls, normally bluff and forthright, chokes up a little when discussing Kauto Star, one hand going to his red bow-tie, the other to rub an eye as he confesses that his great champion is worth getting up in the morning for. Walsh compares the dual Gold Cup winner to Olympic sprinter Usain Bolt for his versatility and dominance, if not his diet of chicken nuggets, while Smith is a little coy when asked about the possibilities of Kauto Star and Master Minded meeting on the track, eventually ruling it out.

According to Nicholls, Kauto Star could have it within him to win two more Gold Cups, and will not be asked to work too hard now that he is rising ten, with a race before the King George and a race before the Gold Cup the likely limit of his workload.

He then suggests that he's only just learned how to train Master Minded, which begs two questions - what took him so long, and how good could the horse be now that Nicholls has got the hang of him? The man who engraves the Champion Chase trophy may as well get the next couple of years out of the way and then put his feet up. T HE three of them gaze out at the gathering, Nicholls at one end, ruddy-cheeked and jovial, Walsh in the middle with the pallor of a saint, successfully conveying the almost unshareable glee of riding at speed over jumps, Smith brimming with bonhomie and pride. It would be nice to have Kauto Star and Master Minded here, slurping at the water and getting butter in their hooves, but their human representatives have done them proud.

If anything, the evening is skewed very much towards Kauto Star rather than his stablemate, with Anthony Bromley next up on stage to tell the tale of his purchase and illustrate the occasional intractability of French trainers when presented with an open chequebook for a horse they'd actually quite like to hang on to. He commits the slight solecism of referring to 'Koto Star', but the benevolence of the evening washes over him and he runs no risk of being hung, drawn and quartered on the 18th green.

Sitting next to me is Jonathan Durrant, one of Smith's 'fishing friends'. One day Durrant and Smith were in a taxi when Smith mentioned that he'd just bought Kauto Star, and that he thought he might be quite good. It's rare to hear of a fishing tale about one that didn't get away, so Smith must be a lucky man.

And in this prolifically art- lined room, which could easily do duty as the National Gallery's west wing, you can see both how lucky he is and his appreciation of that luck, counting his blessings - one, two - amid a host of friends who seem to take as much pleasure in his pleasure as they do in their own.

Same time next year? You wouldn't bet against it. Perhaps next time the horses will make it too.

Read Steve Dennis's blog on


Clive Smith: brimmed with bonhomie and pride on his night of celebration
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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:The Racing Post (London, England)
Date:Jun 21, 2009
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