This year marks 10-years since Denman ran his Gold Cup rivals into the ground, in an epic battle between two of the greatest chasers of modern time and arguably of all time.
The 2008 Cheltenham Gold Cup saw the eagerly anticipated clash between Kauto Star and Denman. The dual had been 12 months in the making and was set to be the biggest rivalry since Arkle and Mill House.
Denman was born at Ballyhampshire Stud in the year 2000 and by the time he was three- years-old he was already 16 3hh. By Presenting, out of a mare called Polly Puttens, Denman was soon on the road to stardom.
Soon after being broken in and five months after starting training, Denman won his first race in a point to point, that in itself is a great achievement.
After winning his maiden at Liscaroll, he was sold to Paul Barber for 120.000euros and three years later he would prove to be a great investment.
After Kauto Star won the Gold Cup at the 2007 Cheltenham Festival and Denman won the Royal & SunAlliance Chase two days previous, the horseracing community were desperate to see the stable mates meet on a racetrack.
The pair went into the 2008 Gold Cup in fine form. The season of 2007-08 saw Denman bag the Hennessy Gold Cup, giving 19lb to his nearest rival, Dream Alliance.
After that heroic weight carrying performance, Denman went on to win the Lexus Chase in Ireland and then the Aon Chase at Newbury before heading to Cheltenham.
Denman went into the Gold Cup unbeaten in two years, however the reigning champion’s season started with a slight blip, as he got beat by one and half lengths in the Old Roan Chase by Monet’s Garden.
Despite the blemish at Aintree, Kauto Star soon got his season back on track when landing the Betfair Chase, before going on to land the King George and also the Ascot Chase.
The horseracing community were desperate to see the stable mates take each other on. The outcome divided the racing public’s opinion but on the 14th of March 2008 they got their answer.
Despite having 12 runners, the Gold Cup was billed as a two horse race, Kauto Star was sent of the 10-11 favourite to hold on to his crown and Denman lined up as the 9-4 challenger.
Neptune Collonges, also trained by Paul Nicholls, jumped off out in front at flag fall, with Denman tracking him and Kauto Star back in fourth.
Denman soon enforced his authority on the race, jumping with exuberance and zest and with a circuit to travel, “The tank” produced a fine leap at the 11th fence which took him to the head of affairs.
It was from the front that Denman dominated the race, attacking his fences and dictating the pace and one by one Denman diminished his rivals.
With Denman producing a round of fluent jumping, Kauto Star was not, his jumping was raged at times, signalling that he was not comfortable with the pace set by Denman.
As they galloped down the hill, Sam Thomas began to wind the screw again and was sitting comfortably aboard Denman, whereas Ruby Walsh was trying to urge a challenge out of Kauto Star.
It was then clear that there was only going to be one winner.Turning for home Denman held a lead of 10 lengths from Neptune Collonges and as he began to climb the famous Cheltenham hill he remained to pull clear.
Kauto Star showed what all true champions have, courage, bravery and a will to grasp victory when being on the cusp of defeat.
Despite Kauto Star’s gutsy efforts, he was only able to claw back a few lengths from his rival, as Denman produced a good jump at the last and galloped up the hill 7 lengths clear of Kauto Star, who just held on from Neptune Collonges.
To saddle the first three of the Cheltenham Gold Cup was a tremendous training achievement by Paul Nicholls, at a time when he dominated National Hunt racing.
Although Nicholls’s 1,2,3 is overshadowed by Michael Dickinson training the first five home in the 1983 Cheltenham Gold Cup, it is an extraordinary achievement and something that will take many a year to be equalled.
Kauto Star may not have been 100% that day, but I believe that Denman was as unbeatable as they come that special day.
The way he dominated the race and bossed his rivals, few horses from any era would have been able to go with him.
We were so lucky that day to witness such a fantastic horse race and a unique rivalry, to have two chasers of that calibre at the same time is rare, but to have two of the greatest chasers of this generation live in neighbouring stables is extremely rare and something I’m confident that we won’t see again.
Article by @MDrowne1