'Odd couple' remember chasing superstar who brought them joy and friendship
Paul Barber and Harry Findlay, two men from different worlds who came together to share the Denman journey, reflected on the heroic exploits of the Cheltenham Gold Cup winner following his death on Tuesday.
Barber, a wealthy farmer, landowner and stockman, was co-owner of Denman with Findlay, an exuberant, high-staking professional gambler, whose share was represented in his mother Margaret's name. Despite their differences they became good friends.
Barber said the decision to euthanise Denman was taken after the deterioration of the 18-year-old’s stifle, the equine equivalent of a human knee.
He said: “He had a stifle injury for two years and it gradually got worse, so we knew we were on borrowed time. Buffy [Shirley-Beavan, vet] and Clifford [Baker, head lad to trainer Paul Nicholls] looked at him last Friday and came into see me and said 'sorry'.
“If you’ve got great, big horses like him there's a lot of strain and unfortunately they don’t live forever. I was so lucky was to have him at home for the last couple of years and watch him enjoy life.
“It was getting difficult, to be honest, and sometimes you could see his eyes were showing a bit of pain. That’s what happened in the last week and he was going downhill. Buffy said if he goes down on the ground you’ll never get him up, so we had no choice in the end.”
While Denman spent his final couple of years back at Ditcheat under the care of Barber, he was never too far from the thoughts of Findlay.
Barber added: “Harry owned half of him as well and he always inquired as to how he was and what was going on, etc.
“Yes, I looked after him here, and I had pleasure in looking after him, but he was loved and cared for by many other people too – Charlotte Alexander had him for four years doing team chasing and hunting. At the end of the day it was just wear and tear.”
Findlay was informed of the decision to put down Denman after talking to Barber, and spoke warmly of his former co-owner’s passion for the chasing great.
He said: “I’m staying at my mum’s overnight and woke up to see three missed calls from Paul Barber, so it didn’t take long to work out what had probably happened. Luckily I went to see Denman a couple of months ago and he had a lameness issue in one leg and it had got worse.
“I told my mum straightaway and was worried about Paul because he’s very close to Denman, so I really felt sorry for my old mate. He sounded fine when I spoke to him, but it’s the end of an era.
"Even when the horse was racing Paul had a wonderful relationship with him as Denman was always a bit of a character. You’ve got to be a certain type of horseman to get close to Denman and Paul was just one of those people.”
Findlay added: “It was a lot of fun, especially with Paul Barber. That was the main thing. I’ve always said me and my mum would rather have owned half of Denman with Paul than the whole of him. That’s truer now than ever.”
The exhilaration of winning the 2008 Cheltenham Gold Cup was highlighted by both owners, but Barber recalled two other occasions when Denman blew him away.
“The day he won the Challow Hurdle was remarkable,” he said. “I never thought he’d do a thing like that and he won by 20 lengths.
“His second Hennessy really made me look him up and down in admiration. Under top weight, off a handicap mark of 174, that was some performance. I’ll never forget that day and I’ll never forget the Gold Cup. It was hyped up to be great and he won it very soundly.”
The admiration for The Tank, as Denman was known by his fans and those closest to him, brought particular joy to Findlay, as did the opportunity to be so closely bound up in some of this century's most iconic racing moments.
“To be involved at the sharp end with a horse like him was special,” Findlay said. “To be that close to a horse who meant so much – not only to me and Paul but to so many people – was a lot of fun. To be on that cliff edge when you’re watching and to have been such a part of it all was very special.”
Barber added: “We were so very lucky to have him. Each horse is slightly different and he was one of these personalities who knew he was good and knew he could show off and play around.
"His nickname The Tank’ the huge write-ups about his rivalry with Kauto Star and then his win in the Gold Cup were just wonderful. He was just part of life.”
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