Sam Thomas, the jockey who partnered the now retired chasing legend Denman to his famous 2008 Cheltenham Gold Cup victory over stable companion Kauto Star, has been talking about the horse he describes as “unbelievable”, writes Elliot Slater.
Thomas rode the Paul Nicholls-trained 11-year-old on eight occasions, winning the first four times the pair joined forces, including the 2007 Hennessy Gold Cup at Newbury (which Denman subsequently land again in 2009), the Grade 2 AON Chase back at the Berkshire track, and a few months later that amazing triumph when Denman put up his best ever performance in landing a monster gamble for part-owner Harry Findlay when proving too strong for his stable companion and living legend Kauto Star in the 2008 Gold Cup, a race that many people cite as being one of the greatest ever renewals of the blue riband affair. People who follow the Cheltenham tips are unlikely to forget the race any time soon.
“He was unbelievable” Thomas remembers. “On his day there was no better chaser in the world. He had a lot of speed. Nothing was going to come by him the day he won the Gold Cup. Denman was real powerhouse.”
Even though he was just a few weeks short of his 12th birthday Nicholls had been preparing Denman who had been as short as 16/1 with some firms to win again at Cheltenham, for one final season at the top and he had appeared to be in fine shape for his reappearance run at Leopardstown in the Lexus Chase at the end of December, only for a tendon injury to end the dream of racing on for one more term. Owner Paul Barber had little hesitation in calling time on Denman’s career, allowing him to bow at gracefully and in one piece.
16-time champion jockey Tony McCoy partnered Denman into second place behind Imperial Commander in the 2010 Cheltenham Gold Cup and described the winner of 14 of his 24 career starts as “a tank”.