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Sunday, 16 December, 2018

The era of the scarf: ‘Denman brought people into the sport like nothing else’

Denman, in full flight jumping the water at Newbury on the way to another win
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Denman will be remembered not only for his races but also, in partnership with stablemate Kauto Star, for raising public interest in jump racing according to the man who presided over Cheltenham during their epic duels.

Edward Gillespie, who was Cheltenham’s managing director at the time, described it as “the era of the scarf”, in reference to the marketing campaign for their showdowns.

Speaking following Denman’s death on Tuesday, Gillespie said: “Those years were mighty special and brought people into the sport like nothing else. With our sponsors Totesport we worked to bring the sport to the wider audience.

“I will always remember a marquee full of banners proclaiming Denman or Kauto Star as the winner of the Gold Cup in the year they were both beaten by Imperial Commander!

Ruby Walsh(r) and Sam Thomas the riders of Kauto Star and Denman in the Gold Cup
"Denman was just a wonderful story for Cheltenham, being a local horse, trained by a champion in Paul and with such contrasting owners in Paul Barber and Harry Findlay who added another dimension.

“It was like nothing we had experienced before and it was a magical time some 20 years on from the last superstars, Dawn Run and Desert Orchid.”

Adding his own tribute Gillespie said: “I remember very well his SunAlliance win at Cheltenham and, being able to remember Mill House, it was the first time in 40 years I had seen a horse with that exhilarating backend power – it was a ‘wow’ moment of electricity.”

Simon Claisse, director of racing at Cheltenham, confirmed the course executive was already thinking about how to honour Denman at the home of jump racing.

“There are a number of ways we could mark his achievements and we are likely to have that decided before the start of our season in October.

“His 2008 Gold Cup win from Kauto Star will forever be seared in my memory as the highlight rather than that we had lost the Wednesday that year and were running nine or ten races a day!” 

Denamn and Sam Thomas on their way to glory in the 2008 Gold Cup at Cheltenham
Rod Street, chief executive of Great British Racing which helped promote the in-house rivalry of the stablemates, said: “The stars of our sport are the horses and few have shone brighter than Denman.

“He was one of those magic horses who transcended the sport and was able to exhilarate both lifelong fans and attract new ones into racing with his courage, breathtaking talent and unrelenting will to win – none more so than when demolishing the field when carrying top weight in the Hennessy – something I and many others will never forget.

“The fact he was around at the same time as Kauto Star created an incredible rivalry on which all compelling sport is based. It was enthralling watching these two colossuses battle it out over the years and they created legions of devoted fans, many of whom were drawn into racing for the first time.

“Jumps horses are special because we get to watch them year after year and there is a greater chance for them to break through into the public’s conscience than Flat horses, who tend to race for just a couple of years.

“There are so many brilliant stories, talented jockeys and amazing feats within racing, but when you have a horse of the calibre of Denman it is a gift from the gods.”

Newbury, the other course synonomous with Denman’s name, is considering how it can further honour the dual Hennessy winner, who is already pictured around the racecourse stands.

Hennessy hero: Denman storms to victory in the 2009 running at Newbury
The Aon Chase, which Denman won in 2008, was renamed in his honour in 2012, and has been won by Gold Cup heroes in Long Run, Coneygree and Native River.

After his death a more permament reminder could be in the offing.
Harriet Collins, head of communications at Newbury, said: “Newbury is undergoing a major redevelopment and we are discussing how Denman might be honoured. We will take time to find the most appropriate way, but there is a place for him somewhere.

“Denman is very much loved at Newbury with moments of his second Hennessy win depicted around the course. He is one horse everyone remembers and feels strongly about.”

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Those years were mighty special and brought people into the sport like nothing else

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