Wednesday 23 January 2019

Nicholls and Walsh mourn 'magic horse' Denman

Trainer Paul Nicholls with his Cheltenham Gold Cup winner Denman at his stables in Somerset. Denman died on Tuesday at the age of 18. Photo: Barry Batchelor/PA
Trainer Paul Nicholls with his Cheltenham Gold Cup winner Denman at his stables in Somerset. Denman died on Tuesday at the age of 18. Photo: Barry Batchelor/PA
Michael Verney

Michael Verney

Rarely has a nickname described a race horse better than Denman's moniker of 'The Tank'.

Some of his performances defied logic and the outpouring of emotion across social media at the sad death of the former Gold Cup winner, 18, showed just how revered he was.

His battles with stablemate Kauto Star - they were housed in adjoining boxes - raised racing's profile as spectators chose between Paul Nicholls' stars and his front-running display to lift the blue riband in 2008 will go down as one of the greatest in recent years.

One of the most iconic National Hunt horses of the 21st century, Denman would reach the winner's enclosure once more but what a victory that was as he claimed his second Hennessy Gold Cup under top-weight.

His regular pilot Ruby Walsh described it as "the best weight-carrying performance" he has been involved in, believing it trumped his Gold Cup win as he gave runner-up What A Friend a whopping 22lbs and a three-and-a-half-length beating.

"To win his second off a mark of 174, which was 13lbs higher than when he won it the first time, that was incredible. As good as his Gold Cup win was, what he did in that second Hennessy Gold Cup, off that mark, was amazing," Walsh told Paddy Power News.

Nicholls outlined how Denman was "put to sleep painlessly" on Tuesday after his health sharply deteriorated in recent days and spoke of the instant impression the heavyweight made on him when he first saw him in Adrian Maguire's yard after he won his point-to-point in Liscarroll.

"I was bowled over by Denman's presence and raw power as he was led into view. He had only taken a few steps when I told Adrian I'd have him. The words were hardly out of my mouth when Paul Barber (co-owner with Harry Findlay) countered, 'No you won't. I'm having him'," Nicholls said.

"He was a magic horse who had a tremendous following because of the wholehearted way he went about his racing. He was tough, hardy and willing, wasn't the easiest to train and would bite your hand off in his box.

"I feel so privileged to have trained Denman and Kauto Star as they were two of the best chasers ever seen."

Also second in three Gold Cups, Denman amassed €1.3 million in career prize money leaving a lasting hoof print on racing. Another horse which had his fair share of Gold Cup heartbreak was Djakadam, which was retired yesterday due to injury and will return to his breeder in France.

The nine-year-old, trained by Willie Mullins and owned by Rich Ricci, had the unique distinction of also finishing second in the Punchestown Gold Cup on four occasions while winning back-to-back runnings of the John Durkan Chase in 2015-16.

Meanwhile, a seven-race Leopardstown Flat card is headlined by two Listed contests as Tennessee Wildcat looks to bridge a three-year gap to take the Glencairn Stakes (7.25) for the second time. Ger Lyons' charge faces a stiff task, however, in a competitive seven-runner contest where only 7lbs separates the septet.

Marshall Jennings is respected for Jessica Harrington after a handicap win at Naas on seasonal debut but preference is for Belle Boyd. Willie McCreery's consistent filly has already knocked on the door at this level and the lightly-raced four-year-old has significant scope for improvement.

Aidan O'Brien's Giuseppe Garibaldi scored at the fifth attempt last Saturday and is fancied in the King George V Cup (7.55) but Carlo Biraghi oozed class on debut at the Curragh last month and can score for Fozzy Stack.

Irish Independent

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport