Paul Nicholls and Clive Smith have taken the decision to retire Kauto Star this morning. Paul reflects on the great chaser - and a tough decision - in this Betfair exclusive
"Sometimes, you have to listen to your head and your heart, and both told me that retirement was the only option."
The end of an era has finally arrived. Clive was here this morning and we have taken the decision to retire Kauto Star.
We have had nine superb years with the horse but, after seeing him in his work these past few weeks, myself, Clifford and Dan were of the opinion that the time had arrived to retire him.
Of course, as owner, the final decision rested with Clive, but he agreed that the horse had done enough.
Don't get me wrong, Kauto looks and feels as vibrant as ever, as those who saw him at our owners' Open Day last month would testify to. He was mad fresh that day and continues to be as alert as ever and very, very well in himself.
But I suspect Kauto will be like that when he is 20-years-old.
And, deep down, we know he has done enough - and in some ways I think we have to protect him from himself. And maybe ourselves, too. If he did go to Kempton and win or run well, would you really want to run him - or be able to resist the temptation - in the Gold Cup?
I am not so sure.
Kauto is signing off in full health and after a season in which he proved so many people wrong by winning a fifth King George and a fourth Betfair Chase, to add to his two Cheltenham Gold Cups and Tingle Creeks.
Who wouldn't want to train a horse of this quality any more? He is a once-in-a-lifetime horse, after all.
Ever since he won on his debut for me at Newbury on December 29, 2004, the horse has consistently proved himself a class apart. And a £1m Betfair Million bonus in 2007 and 16 Grade 1 wins later, who would bet against him going to Kempton in December and making it number 17?
But sometimes, you have to listen to your head and your heart, and both told me that retirement was the only option.
You are a long time retired - as a certain Sir Alex Ferguson soon realised after stating his intention to step down as United manager some 10 years ago - and particularly if you are as naturally exuberant, intelligent and inquisitive as this great horse.
I get that.
Who else is going to put the up-and-coming youngsters in their place on the 5f gallop now, and put a smile on Clifford's face every morning - no mean feat that! - if he is retired?
But, knowing Kauto, he would still be coming back in after grass at the age of 14 still looking and working brilliantly, and giving us that burning question to answer.
And delaying my honest take on the retirement question would have probably been just selfishness and stubbornness on my part too - the equivalent of a football manager desperately clinging on to his best, if ageing player - and sometimes you have to look to the future and at the bigger picture.
But at the end of the day Kauto is Clive's horse, not mine. And he made the call this morning. And a brave and difficult one it would have been, too, so all credit to him.
But Kauto is also a public horse now, every bit as much as Desert Orchid, and to us here at Ditcheat that had to be a factor in the decision to retire. And while it would have been brilliant to go out on a winning high - remember Dessie's last race was a fall at Kempton - I don't think anyone present at Cheltenham last March would view Kauto's final appearance on a racetrack as a failure.
The spontaneous applause he got from the crowd when he was pulled up genuinely lifted the spirits of all the team here - and it is the team here, from Clifford down, and Clive, that made Kauto what he became - at what was a low moment.
Disappointment was immediately replaced by pride, and that is the overwhelming emotion I feel when looking at the horse.
Ever since then, Clive and I have discussed retirement at regular intervals.
But now the decision has been made it will be very strange to look out of my office window and not see Kauto's head and Denman's arse sticking out the main two boxes - or indeed Clive's Master Minded, for that matter.
Because Kauto Star will be the hardest of acts to follow.
He has given me my best days in the sport and, even though the Gold Cups and King Georges are the pinnacles for any staying chaser, with his 2009 Kempton win breathtakingly impressive, the raw emotion that followed his Haydock win last November will live longest in my memory.
I had to hold myself together to stop myself being in floods of tears that day, and I just about managed it.
But whatever the future holds, I am certain that Clive and all us here at Ditcheat will reflect on a magnificent past and I am sure we will both go on searching for the unattainable in the future.
Namely, a horse to replace the irreplaceable legend that was, and is, Kauto Star.