Cheltenham Gold Cup 2008 – Denman

The 2008 Cheltenham Gold Cup featured just twelve runners, but included Kauto Star and Exotic Dancer, first and second in the 2007 renewal and Denman, winner of the Royal & Sun Alliance Chase at the 2007 Cheltenham Festival and hitherto unbeaten over fences. Of course, Kauto Star and Denman, along with lesser-fancied stable companion Neptune Collonges, were saddled by Paul Nicholls but, even so, the race was billed in some quarters as the most eagerly-awaited renewal of the Gold Cup since Arkle beat Mill House in 1964.

The betting market had a slightly lopsided look to it, with defending champion Kauto Star sent off odds-on favourite at 10/11, ahead of Denman at 9/4, Exotic Dancer at 17/2 and 16/1 bar the leading trio, which brought in the narrow Welsh National runner-up Halcon Genelardais. Once the race was underway, 25/1 chance Neptune Collonges, ridden by Mick Fitzgerald, cut out the running until early on the second circuit, but was headed by Denman, ridden by Sam Thomas, at the twelfth fence. Thereafter, the Presenting gelding was never headed and, although jumping the fourth-last fence less than fluently, soon went clear.

Kauto Star, whose jumping had lacked fluency throughout, gave chase under Ruby Walsh from the third last, but could make no real impression on Denman in the closing stages and had to settle for a creditable second, seven lengths behind the winner. The early leader, Neptune Collonges, rallied gamely from the second last and stayed on strongly to close to within a short head of Kauto Star at the line. In so doing, he completed a notable 1-2-3 in the ‘Blue Riband’ event for trainer Paul Nicholls, who said, “That was brilliant. It’s brilliant for the whole team.”