Denman: a celebration ten years on from his Cheltenham Gold Cup victory
A celebration of The Tank
Ten things you might not know about Denman
1 Denman may have been born in County Cork but his name has Japanese roots. The son of Presenting was bred by haulier Colman O’Flynn and inspiration came from a successful investment made in land on the site of the former Matsui Denman industrial plant near Cork’s Jack Lynch tunnel. He was sold to Paul Barber and Harry Findlay for €100,000 after a single success for Adrian Maguire at Liscarroll point-to-point.
2 O’Flynn sent the young Denman to his son-in-law Edmund Kent’s Ballyhampshire Stud in Castlelyons for pre-training. Kent had also played a key role in the early development of Dawn Run and, speaking after Denman’s 2008 Cheltenham Gold Cup victory, he said: “He was a big, huge baby. Quite honestly when I broke him, I was watching him and he was so big and lazy I thought I could end up going hunting with this lad.”
3 Findlay’s widely adopted nickname for Denman, ‘The Tank’, was in part a tribute to his powerful running and jumping but was also in no small measure due to the sheer size and heft of the horse. Denman measures 17.2 hands and in his racing prime he stripped down to a fighting weight of 555kg (87st). In comparison, the lighter-framed Kauto Star was 530kg.
4 Denman met defeat for the first time against Nicanor and Paul Carberry in a slowly run Royal & SunAlliance Novices’ Hurdle at the 2006 Cheltenham Festival. Findlay recalls in his recent autobiography, Gambling For Life: “I’m as certain now as I was on the day that had he been ridden more aggressively the result would have been very different. I was pissed off with the ride Ruby Walsh gave him because we shouldn’t have lost, and if we did, it should have been from a length and a half in front, getting caught.”
5 Denman won all five of his starts as a novice over fences. In the week before his festival dress rehearsal at Newbury in February 2007 he gave ample demonstration of his appetite for the task when winging round the tight confines of Paul Nicholls’ sand schooling ring in front of BBC News cameras. With co-owner (and Nicholls’ landlord) Barber leaning over the wall to watch his pride and joy, Walsh called out: “I don’t think he’s going to stand for being dropped in on Saturday!” And so it proved as Denman made all to beat Mr Pointment by 36 lengths.
6 The following December his first win in the Hennessy Gold Cup marked the start of full-blown ‘Denmania’ as the young pretender shrugged off top weight and an eight-and-a-half-month absence to pummel his rivals. On Racing Post Ratings, Denman ran the same race to the pound when landing his second Hennessy two years later, fighting bravely to defeat stablemate What A Friend, who was in receipt of 22lb.
7 In the wake of his first Hennessy romp, Coral made Denman 6-4 favourite for the Gold Cup and eased the reigning champion and his neighbour at Ditcheat, Kauto Star, out to 7-4. Yet despite adding wins in the Lexus Chase and the Aon Chase, by the time the pair lined up on March 14 Denman was 9-4 while Kauto was odds-on. No matter as ‘The Tank’ ran Kauto Star and Neptune Collonges ragged to win by seven lengths.
8 On September 22, 2008 Denman was sent to Rossdales veterinary clinic in Newmarket after showing signs of an irregular heartbeat, which cardiac specialist Celia Marr confirmed as an atrial fibrillation. Three sequential doses of quinidine were used to return his heart to its normal rhythm with no recourse to cardio-conversion or, in layman’s terms, electric shock treatment.
9 Denman was ridden out every morning through the first stage of his career with Nicholls by Jess Allen, who went on maternity leave following his Gold Cup success. Sarah West, Will Biddick and Georgie Brown all had spells with the reigning champion but it was the return of Allen after Denman’s disappointing first run back at Kempton in February 2009 that coincided with an upturn in his work. Allen’s positive bulletins gave the green light for Nicholls to send him back to Cheltenham, where he was a gallant runner-up to Kauto Star.
10 Denman is the only horse ever to have been runner-up in three Cheltenham Gold Cups – behind Kauto Star in 2009, Imperial Commander in 2010 and Long Run in 2011. He won twice in six visits to the Cheltenham Festival and was never out of the first two.
'Everyone was shaking their heads, open-mouthed'
Luke Harvey looks back on his favourite Denman race
Denman epitomised everything I like in a racehorse. He was gutsy, a bruiser, the sort of horse you wouldn’t want to fall out with outside a nightclub. He intimidated other horses; he used to break them mentally with that relentless gallop and the way he attacked fences.
I saw him win over hurdles but I always recall his first chase at Exeter. After three fences you watched him and thought: “You’re born to do that – that’s what you’re going to excel at.”
His crowning moment for a lot of people was when he won the Gold Cup but one of the greatest races I’ve ever seen was when he won the Hennessy for the second time carrying 11st 12lb.
I was watching from the press room balcony and it was pretty obvious from halfway down the back that he was turning the screw.
It was rather heart-in-the-mouth stuff when he turned to go down to that cross fence and you wondered if the weight was going to tell but up the straight he was so tough and hard and Ruby Walsh was able to chuck him at his fences.
You don’t often see Ruby moved by horses but he was genuinely moved that day and in the press room everyone was shaking their heads, open-mouthed.
Although I go racing every day, my favourite thing is watching the horses, I love them, and I distinctly remember the moment he crossed the line I ran all the way down the stairs to get into the winner’s enclosure to see him come back.
You don’t often see a horse who tries as hard as he did. He was quite obviously absolutely exhausted: he’d given every last ounce, which is what I love about people or horses, someone willing to go that extra mile.
There was nothing flash about it; it was a gruelling 15-rounder where he beat them convincingly on points, all down to guts and determination. It emphasises how brave that horse was: he would gallop through a brick wall for you.
The 2008 Gold Cup
The day that Denman and Kauto Star met for the first time was one of the most eagerly awaited clashes in jump racing since the war.
It came in the Cheltenham Gold Cup in 2008, when Kauto Star was sent off the 10-11 favourite to repeat his 2007 triumph with Denman a 9-4 shot to maintain his unbeaten record over fences.
And the market got it wrong on a memorable day. Denman was always travelling well behind a strong pace set by their stablemate Neptune Collonges, whereas Kauto Star never got into a rhythm and made notable mistakes at the six-last and fourth-last fences.
Denman took over up front passing the winning post for the second time and jockey Sam Thomas made his winning move four out, looking under his arm for dangers before pulling clear so that he was more than ten lengths up two out.
Kauto Star kept on again to cut the margin to a slightly more respectable seven lengths at the line and jockey Ruby Walsh subsequently claimed his mount was not at his best, but there was no argument as to who was the better horse on the day.
Kauto v Denman
Alastair Down Why it was Denman for me
Being cheerfully bonkers about Denman doesn’t disqualify you from being entranced by Kauto Star’s scarce-bettered brilliance, but for engaging the emotions and sheer visceral appeal the big horse was the one for me.
He may have been steak and chips to a Michelin-starred meal or Blood ’N Guts Patton to Napoleon, but the sight of Denman in full cry up front had something shiveringly raw about it that grabbed the soul. Heart first and huge frame to follow, he would hurl himself at his fences like some old-fashioned war horse from the mists of days long past.
When he won the 2007 Hennessy under 11st 12lb he all but tore the opposition limb from limb and it ranks as one of the totemic handicap victories of all time. Three and a half months later in the Gold Cup he beat Kauto Star seven lengths with another bravura display of piling on the coals up front like some demented stoker shovelling for his very life.
He was to finish second in the next three Gold Cups and, while pulse and memory are still in working order, I will never forget the sheer magnificence of Denman and Kauto Star, 11 years young the pair of them, duelling down the hill for mastery until collared by Long Run going to the last.
By god they gave us some days those box neighbours, but while the head acknowledges Kauto Star the heart still beats quicker in the breast for Denman.
If you enjoyed this, you might like: