Was Kauto Star better than Desert Orchid?

Proving, conclusively, that one horse is better than other is the essence of horse racing. However, for horses foaled more than two decades apart – as is the case with Kauto Star and Desert Orchid – there’s no way of doing so, which often leads to lively debate. For a short answer to the headline question, Timeform Master Ratings, which represent the merit of each horse, expressed in Imperial pounds, under its optimum conditions, are probably as consistent, empirical and objective a merit as we can hope to find. Indeed, they are specifically designed to allow inter-generational comparisons and, as such, are an obvious starting point.

Of course in today’s world there are many more opportunities to watch race horses and their progress over time, from dedicated TV channels to streaming options that are really becoming centre stage in terms of media. These of course can also often be viewed any place, anytime with the help of VPNs and the like. So wherever you are in the world and whatever device to hand, you need not feel detached from your favourite sport. UK sports streaming trends make sure how this is becoming the go-to method of tuning in. With racing that can feed into a far more nuanced understanding of a horses career trajectory and ability.

According to Timeform, Kauto Star achieved a rating of 191, the joint fourth highest ever awarded to a steeplechaser, while Desert Orchid achieved a rating of 187. Indeed, Timeform also commented that Kauto Star was blessed with ‘a level of ability unsurpassed in the last 45 years’.

Looking a little deeper into their respective racing careers, Kauto Star won 23 of his 41 starts and, at the time of his retirement, in October, 2012, had amassed an eye-watering £3.78 million in prize money, including bonuses. His 16 Grade 1 wins included the King George VI Chase (2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2011), Betfair Chase (2006, 2007, 2009, 2011), Cheltenham Gold Cup (2007, 2009) and Tingle Creek (2005, 2006). He remains the most successful horse in the history of the first two races and has the distinction of being the first horse to regain the Cheltenham Gold Cup after finishing second to his stable companion, Denman, in 2008.

Unlike Kauto Star, who won four times over hurdles in France for original trainer, Serge Foucher, but never raced over the smaller obstacles in Britain, Desert Orchid first rose to prominence as a novice hurdler. In 1983/84, he won six of his eight starts, including the Grade 1 Tolworth Hurdle at Sandown and, although ultimately well beaten, was sent off second favourite for the 1984 Champion Hurdle, won by Dawn Run.

Switched to fences early in the 1985/86 season, Desert Orchid went on to win 34 of his 70 starts, including the King George VI Chase King (1986, 1988, 1989, 1990), Cheltenham Gold Cup (1989) and Tingle Creek Chase (1988). As testament to his versatility, he also won the Whitbread Gold Cup (1988) and the Irish Grand National (1990). Desert Orchid may have won more races than Kauto Star, but, even allowing for bonuses and inflation, his career earnings were still only about half of those of his illustrious successor.