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Kauto Star – the end of an era?

As Imperial Commander romped to victory and finished seven lengths clear of Denman in the Cheltenham Gold Cup, the odds-on favourite Kauto Star looked dejected as he cantered to the finish in last place after a surprise fall four from home.

Is it the end of the road for Kauto Star? photograph: CharlesFred

Having lost out to stablemate and best friend Denman in 2008, this year’s race was once again being billed as the ‘clash of the titans’, and saw Paul Nicholls trained Kauto Star bidding to become only the fifth horse in history to win the prestigious trophy three times.

However, champion jockey Ruby Walsh struggled to find a rhythm and was lucky to stay onboard the favourite after hitting an early fence.

Both horse and jockey looked to have recovered well before nosediving into the Cheltenham turf, leaving Denman to mount the sole challenge on a strengthening, Nigel Twiston-Davies trained Imperial Commander as they turned for home.

The loss may have represented the last chance for Kauto Star to join the likes of Arkle and Best Mate in winning three Gold Cups. But after becoming the first horse ever to regain the coveted trophy in 2009, it might be too early to write off his chances of repeating this extraordinary feat just yet.

Optimistic

If Kauto Star is entered in next year’s race, he will certainly face stiff competition from improving horses in the shape of Imperial Commander, Big Buck’s and this year’s RSA chase winner Weapons Amnesty.

However, despite being realistically wary of an improving field, Kauto Star’s owner, Clive Smith is optimistic that his most decorated horse can once again mount a serious challenge for the title.

He told BBC Sport: “I still think we can come back and give him (Imperial Commander) a very good race, if not beat him.

“He (Kauto Star) is such a performer, he might get close, but Imperial Commander could well improve and it will be tough.”

Kauto Star was 6/1 in the antepost betting to regain the Gold Cup in 2011, and whilst many believe he is capable of springing one last surprise as he approaches his autumn years, it remains to be seen whether the impressive French-bred will be backed to rewrite the history books once again.

Jenny Prest, from the bookmakers William Hill said: “there might be a few punters who think there is a bit of value in it, but at the moment it’s too early to tell whether there will be a lot of money coming for Kauto Star for next year’s Gold Cup.

“things tend to kick off once the jump season starts again in October. Only then will we have a clearer picture of the way the betting might go.”

Age concerns

Despite an astonishing career in national hunt racing, and whilst being far from his last appearances, Kauto Star’s age is leading to concerns that his best chance to join the distinguished quartet of three time Gold Cup winners is now behind him.

The three mile and two and a half furlong trip has not been won by a horse over nine years old since Andrew Thornton came home onboard Cool Dawn to take the crown in 1998.

In fact, only twice in the last 20 years has a horse over the age of nine had enough left in the tank to charge up the famous Cheltenham hill and win racing’s most valuable non-handicap event.

These trends and the fact that next time round, Kauto Star will be pushing 11 years of age, are unlikely to discourage punters from backing him if he shows good form come next season.

Jenny Prest said: “Age doesn’t usually affect the betting very much, and unless it is flagged up by the newspapers nearer the time, then amongst other considerations like the form and the going, there will probably be little attention paid to the horse’s age.

“It tends to be those other factors that have a bearing, rather than the fact the horse will be 11 years old.”

King George chase

Kauto Star’s chances of winning a third Gold Cup will largely depend on the form he shows in the King George VI Chase at Kempton Park on Boxing Day.

Having made history earlier this year by becoming the first horse ever to win the King George four years in a row, Kauto Star is once again likely to head the field in this three mile trip. A race that is widely considered as the precursor to the Gold Cup.

His performance here should give some indication of his chances of making history at Cheltenham next March.

It was widely believed that a horse would never come back to regain a Cheltenham Gold Cup crown, but Kauto Star proved doubters wrong in 2009. It is now clear that next year’s festival is likely to be the last opportunity to add one more record to his already incomparable C.V.

Having unplaced on only five occasions and being the first horse ever to win over two million pounds in prize money over jumps, Kauto Star has already done enough to secure legendary status in the eyes of many.

Whilst he may never formally join the elite club of Arkle, Best Mate, Golden Miller and Cottage Rake that have won the Gold Cup on three or more occasions, Kauto Star is already viewed on a par with these horses.

There is little doubt that, regardless of future results, he will go down in history as one of the greatest steeplechasers of all time.

By Nick Higgins

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Sport Relief from your sofa

It is that time again when the public are encouraged to run, walk or wheel the Sport Relief Mile. But if you do not want to take part in the mile, how else can you get involved and raise some money?

You can also support the cause by buying merchandise like socks, t-shirts and drinks bottles. Photograph: Nick Higgins

Sport relief takes place every two years as it alternates with it’s parent event Comic Relief. Since beginning in 2002 it has raised over £80 million.

The money raised helps poor and disadvantaged people both in the UK and in countries all over the world.

At the very heart of the event is the Sport Relief Mile. People of all ages, shapes and sizes are encouraged to get active and challenge themselves to raise money for sport relief.

But whilst some people keenly take up the challenge, others are filled with dread at the very thought of it.

So if you do not want to take part in the Sport Relief Mile, how can you be more creative in your fund raising efforts, here are my top seven suggestions.

Hold a sports quiz

Having a sports quiz in your local pub can be great fun and requires no physical exercise. Ask everyone to pay a small fee to take part in the quiz. You can also arrange for a percentage of drinks sales from the evening to go to sport relief too.

Be your hero

Hold a dress-up day at your work, school, college or university. Ask people to pay a small fee to take part, and they can come dressed as their sporting heroes.

Competition

Organise a competition on your favourite sports computer game. Ask all your friends to pay a small fee to take part. The winner walks away with the bragging rights. (until next time).

Sing along

Hold a good old-fashioned karaoke night among friends and ask for a small fee to take part.

Rivalry

Take part in Danny Baker’s ‘shirt of hurt’ challenge by putting on the shirt of your team’s rival club. If you can go through with it, get your friends and family to sponsor you to wear it for a whole day.

Race night

Hold a race night at your home or local pub. Ask people to pay a small fee to take part and use poker chips or monopoly money to gamble with. That way you do not have to pay out all the money collected for sport relief.

Practice makes perfect

Ask your friends and family to sponsor you to take conversions at your local rugby club. Take 50 place kicks from various positions on the field and ask people to sponsor you a certain amount of money for each converted kick.

This can be done with other things too.  get sponsored for every penalty you score or save, or even ask for a certain amount to be donated everytime you hit the bar from the edge of the box.

Sport Relief weekend takes place between the 19th and 21st March.

By Nick Higgins


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The right to die…

The recent case of Kay Gilderdale, the mother who helped her daughter die after she had suffered for 17 years with Myalgic Encephalopathy (ME), has reignited a complex ethical debate which has been bubbling below the surface for some years.

Last night the annual Richard Dimbleby Lecture saw fantasy author and Alzheimers suferrer Terry Pratchett support the case for assisted death in a very emotionally charged speech entitled ‘Shaking hands with death’.

Terry Pratchett on a visit to Poland in 2004 - Artur Machlowski

Due to Terry Pratchett’s condition, his speech was read by Tony Robinson, better known as Baldric from the historical sitcom Blackadder. It was a speech which reached out of the screen and pulled me in. It was captivating, it was balanced, it was convincing and it was inspirational.

The speech detailed how Pratchett’s particularly rare form of Alzhimer’s disease has taken hold since he was diagnosed in 2007, aged 59. The words coveyed real meaning and struck a nerve with me as i’m sure they did with many of the 2.1 million others who tuned in to watch it.

Terry Pratchett’s desire was to put forward a case for a Euthanasia tribunal, which would give people with severe or terminal illnesses the right to choose exactly when they die. He did this by referring to his own disease and making public the circumstances in which he himself wishes to die.

His desire to die at his own request ‘before the disease took him over’ was detailed. It was poignantly stated that Terry Pratchett wishes to die sitting in his own armchair, or in his own garden with a glass of brandy, whilst listening to English composer Thomas Tallis on his iPod.

‘Complex ethical debate’

This simple wish conjoured up strong images in my mind and left me convinced that assisted death was not only wholly acceptable, but left me questioning why this issue has not been addressed before now.

Naturally I began thinking about my own death and the particular artist I would want to listen to on my iPod should that time come. I came to no solid conclusions before also beginning to think about the situations in which my relatives may meet their end and what circumstances they might wish for.

I must stress I do not wish to oversimplify this very complex ethical debate and there are still many questions which must be considered. For example, the distinction between severely ill and terminally ill is one which deserves particular attention if a change in the law is to be discussed.

With that said, on a basic level, I don’t see any reason why people who have been in considerable pain for a  number of years, sometimes the majority of their lives, cannot have the right to decide when they want to die. Perhaps more important is the conscious decision of the circumstances under which they wish to die.

Personalising death

Terry Pratchett’s detailed description of how he envisages his own death seems, on a personal level, to make perfect sense. In essence that personal level is what this debate boils down to. It is about giving people the right to personalize their own death. It’s about giving people, who are in constant pain, the right to avoid spending their last remaining days in an alien and uncomfortable environment such as a hospital ward. An environment where they are surrounded by men and women in white coats who insist on keeping them alive and in the process prolong their pain.

I don’t proclaim to know how it feels to have a terminal illness. However, I do know that if I did, I would at least like to have the option of choosing to apply for assisted death if I so desired.

The possibility of this debate being addressed by Parliament before this year’s General Election is  very unlikely due to it being of an ethical nature and not a party political one. However, do not be surprised if it crops up in the new term of Parliament this summer.

‘The Richard Dimbleby Lecture’ can be seen on BBC iPlayer until 8th February 2010

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Rage against the X factor machine

X factor winner Joe McElderry is going head to head for this year’s Christmas number one spot with none other than Rage Against the Machine.

Although, that is not strictly true. Rage will technically be going head to head with the X factor establishment rather than the individual winner of the show.

Those people who know me, know that as a general rule I do not like rock music and have been known to have a soft spot for cheesy X factor winners including Leona. However, I have always admired Rage for their no-nonsense way of displaying what I would call ‘heavy’ political messages.

This is a band who headlined Reading festival dressed as prisoners of war in a protest at an ‘unjust’ Iraq war. This is a band that has been restricted from playing on numerous occasions, and has gone ahead and played anyway. This is a band who, on Thursday, swore on BBC radio Five live’s breakfast show during a rendition of their 1992 hit and Christmas number one hopeful ‘Killing in the Name of”.

WARNING: Contains strong language

Rage Against The Machine and Christmas should really never be mentioned in the same sentence. The band’s entire ethos is as far away from ‘Christmas cheer’ as you can possibly get. However, there is something about Rage that I find intriguing, something which made me listen to them as I was growing up, and something which I have never been able to put my finger on.

Perhaps it is the simple, yet typically addictive riffs. Perhaps it is the infectious tone of lead singer Zack de la Rocha’s voice or the unique blend of his hip hop lyrics with roaring bass lines. Perhaps it is simply the ballsy, anti-establishment messages which the band are so famous for preaching.

Product of social networking

I like Rage for all these reasons but this is not why I will be buying their single this week. Rather, I feel the popular reaction to the facebook group urging people to make the Rage single number one is a fascinating example of the power which social networking sites hold. The group currently has 397,286 members.

Make no mistake, It will be a genuinely pleasant moment if Rage are named this year’s Christmas number one and the ‘anti x factor’ contingent reign supreme. Indeed, wouldn’t it be lovely to see Simon Cowell’s face when it is announced?

Please vote in the poll below for who you THINK will be this years Christmas number one.

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Paying for news content

It is no secret that Rupert Murdoch wishes to begin charging for News International content on the internet, in the new year. Today Johnston Press, the company that owns a number of local paper titles including the Northumberland Gazette, has announced it is to run an experimental period charging readers £5 for accessing their online news content for three months.

The dawn of the internet and search engines such as Google has seen local newspapers suffer huge losses. This is because more and more people have been following news online rather than reading the newspaper. It is unclear whether or not people will be responsive to the subscription model which is being piloted by Johston Press. If the model is successful it is likely to create a blueprint for the future. You may be required to pay for your ‘news fix’ sooner than you think.

Would you be happy to pay for online news content? please vote in my poll.

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Volatile Protests at BBC Television Centre

Protesters gathered outside the BBC Television Centre today
Protesters gathered outside the BBC Television Centre today

Around 30 people gained access to the BBC television centre in London today, as several hundred gathered outside to protest against Nick Griffin’s appearance on ‘Question Time’ this evening.

The demonstrators stormed the front gates after they opened to allow a car through and broke down a security barrier before gaining access to the building in White City. Once inside the building they were not violent and were quickly removed by BBC security and police.

Protester Mark Twyford, a 21 year old student at the London School of Economics, said, “Everytime the BNP are given a public platform, racist attacks rise by about 300 percent. I don’t think we should be giving an openly racist party a public platform.”

David Broader, also 21 was protesting not only against the BNP but against the treatment of immigrants by the two main political parties as well. He said “I don’t think its ok to ally with the Labour Party or the Tories against the BNP, actually I think, although they are not Fascist Party’s, they themselves attack immigrants day by day.”

Police were also forced to close the road outside Wood Lane tube station for a number of hours as anti-fascist groups spilled into the streets and blocked the route of cars and buses during the evening rush hour.

Anti-Fascist protesters outside the Television Centre earlier today

Anti-Fascist protesters outside Television Centre earlier today

It was a volatile atmosphere as demonstrators marched, chanted and let off flares. There was a heavy police presence containing the crowds trying to get in the gates and holding back protesters marching in the Road.

According to the Metropolitan Police, six protesters are being held and three police officers were injured in today’s protests.

The controversial episode of ‘Question Time’ can be seen tonight on BBC One at 10.35pm.

By Nick Higgins

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Locals Remain Concerned About Islamic Extremists

 
North London Central Mosque in Finsbury Park
North London Central Mosque, Finsbury Park

A local man has revealed his concerns about the possibility of Islamic extremists living in the London Borough of Islington.

The North London Central (NLC) Mosque on St. Thomas’s Road, Finsbury Park was at the centre of police investigations into alleged links with Al-Qaeda in 2002.

It is best known for its contacts to controversial cleric Abu Hamza Al-Masri, who was jailed for seven years in 2006 after being found guilty of inciting murder and racial hatred during his sermons held at the Mosque.

“The community has been rebuilt”

A representative from the NLC Mosque was not available for comment but Mohamed Abdelhalim, Operations Manager at nearby ‘Muslim Welfare House’ said, “after the damaging links to Al-Qaeda and terrorism, the congregations at both our Mosques became a lot smaller. But it doesn’t affect us anymore, the community has been rebuilt.”

Despite an increase in the numbers of worshippers at both Mosques in the Finsbury Park area and a new management structure at the NLC Mosque, some locals are still worried about the legacy of Islamic extremism in the area.

A member of the congregation at the NLC Mosque who wished to remain anonymous remembers being turned away in 2002 by supporters of the extremist Imam Abu Hamza. Since that time he said,

“Things at the Mosque have improved greatly, but I am still worried. You cannot tell what might happen. It’s very likely there are still extremists in the area, which is a problem for everyone”.

By Nick Higgins

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