Few horses have captured the hearts of the racing nation quite like Denman, with Paul Nicholls’ superstar providing us with some fantastic performances that quite simply have to be seen to be believed. He was nicknamed ‘The Tank’ for a very good reason, proving over a six-year career that few could surpass his grit and determination. In this piece, we will be celebrating the wonderful life and career of the Gold Cup hero, through the highs and lows of a stand-out career. To Paul Barber, Paul Nicholls and all those connected with the great horse, we offer our sincerest condolences as we honour the people’s champion.
Almost the perfect start
Bought from the pointing field after a very impressive victory at Liscarroll, Denman would win his first four starts in very impressive style, arriving to the Royal & SunAlliance Novices’ Hurdle (now the Ballymore) at the Cheltenham Festival as the 11/10 favourite. He would go down swinging that day to finish a gallant second, though his defeat came as a big shock. That was to be his only defeat over timber, as he would immediately be switched to the larger obstacles for the 2006/07 season. Untouchable would be the word that came to mind for his first season over fences, winning all five of his starts in impressive fashion, with the crowning glory coming with an RSA Chase victory at the Festival.
A star in the ascendency
His next performance would perhaps be his most impressive, as he made his seasonal debut in the Hennessy Gold Cup at Newbury bearing the top-weight of 11st 12lb. Even with the class he so obviously had, carrying such a big weight to victory in a competitive handicap was difficult, even for the best. So when Denman powered through the mud at the Berkshire venue to record a jaw-dropping eleven length success, the racing public immediately turned their thoughts to Cheltenham, Kauto Star vs Denman was well and truly on.
The People’s Champion is crowned
A race that will forever be etched into history, the 2008 renewal of the Cheltenham Gold Cup saw the first meeting of Denman and Kauto Star. The latter was returning to Prestbury Park to try and retain his crown won twelve months prior, with Denman looking to dethrone his impeccable stable-mate. Sticking closely with Kauto Star throughout, Denman made a hash of the fourth last but on the landing side of the fence, he started to draw clear. There was a collective gasp at the home of jump’s racing as Denman put his stable-mate to the sword, making the Cheltenham Hill look ordinary as he powered home for a seven-length success. Mesmerizing, jaw-dropping and quite simply, beautiful.
Bouncing back from strife
Over his summer break, it was found that the Gold Cup Hero had an irregular heartbeat, which would keep him off the track until February 2009. He could only finish second on his return to action, with questions raised as to whether he was still the Denman we’d grown to love over the year’s prior. The doubters were silenced a month later as he made his bid to retain the Gold Cup, finishing a gallant second to Kauto Star who was imperious that day. It was proved beyond doubt by ‘The Tank’ when he won his second Hennessy in November 2009, defeating What A Friend for a second sublime victory in the race under top-weight, adding another stand-out performance to his roll of honour. He would go on to finish second in two more Gold Cups thereafter, to Imperial Commander in 2010 and finally to Long Run in 2011.
The final piece of the puzzle
The 2011 renewal of the Cheltenham Gold Cup was perhaps the feel-good moment of Denman’s illustrious career, as he and Kauto Star did battle one final time at Prestbury Park. Both eleven-year-olds with nothing left to prove, a smile was etched on everyone’s faces as the pair went head to head from four-out until the final fence, where the younger Long Run got their measure. Although Kauto Star would ultimately be best of the two on accolades, Denman would get the last laugh with a second-place finish that day.
A horse who left nothing on the table and wore his heart on his sleeve, Denman will long live in the memory of racing fans. Everything you could ask for in a racehorse and more, videos of his Gold Cup triumph from 2008 will be replayed for years to come. Thanks for the memories, Denman.