Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 28 December 2014

Denman all set for Kauto Star showdown

Many who are saluting one of the modern steeplechasing paragons have been deceived into ascribing to Denman all the virtues they fondly associate with his calling.

In their reckoning, his performance under top weight at Newbury on Saturday was as much a matter of grit as grandeur. The handicapper, after all, had already measured the gulf in class dividing Denman from his rivals.

In a race as attritional as the Hennessy Gold Cup, he could only win by demonstrating a commensurate superiority in courage — by a determination not to allow his inferiors to profit from this brutish disparity in dead weight.

Well, they should try asking his jockey. Ruby Walsh's final observation before mounting up had been that he only had one worry — getting Denman to start the race. And the first thing he said, after driving him home, was that the horse would be even better in blinkers.

Which begs one, rather wonderful question — what on earth might this horse do, if he ever deigns to explore the full parameters of his ability?

It is one especially pertinent to Walsh himself, assuming both Denman and his famous next door neighbour, Kauto Star, reach the third leg of their private duel for the Totesport Cheltenham Gold Cup. They have exchanged the trophy over the past two runnings, but on each occasion the runner-up was considered below his best by their trainer, Paul Nicholls. Walsh has so far shown fidelity to Kauto Star, but the opportunity to ride Denman for only the second time in nearly two years will have given him renewed food for thought.

When Walsh rode Denman at Kempton last February, he was running for the first time since winning the Gold Cup the previous March, and had in the meantime been treated for a pulmonary problem. He was never really going that day.

In contrast, he had begun his Gold Cup campaign with that first, effervescent success in the Hennessy, again under top weight.

Harry Findlay, the professional gambler who owns Denman in partnership with Paul Barber, said: “I had thought that if he was going to win, he would have to be taking a length out of them at every fence.”

For the Cheltenham Gold Cup bookmakers have Kauto Star at |7-4 ahead of Denman on 9-4.

Kauto Star will make his customary trip to Kempton on Boxing Day for the King George VI Chase, while Denman will by-pass the Lexus Chase at Leopardstown’s Christmas meeting and will instead warm-up for Cheltenham in the Aon Chase back at Newbury in February.

Findlay added: “We were thinking of going to Ireland but we won't now he's won. We'll go straight to the Aon. It means one less race to worry about.”

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