The other day I reported Denman was on course for the Lexus Chase at Leopardstown, but there’s been a slight change of plan. Rather than taking in Foxrock over Christmas before heading for the Gold Cup in March as Paul Nicholls had outlined in his upbeat report the other day, he’s retiring instead, which I think we can all admit is a rather dramatic change in direction. Nicholls says he suffered a tendon injury whilst training and the decision has been taken to hang up his bridle. People far more eloquent and knowledgeable than me will doubtless give him send-offs befitting of his talents, but here’s my brief profile of a tremendous champion who lit up the sport.
We didn’t get off to the best of starts. It was tetchy for a while. I rarely back favourites, but going against my illogical and not especially successful system, I couldn’t see him beaten in the Royal And Sun Alliance Novices’ Hurdle of 2006 and jumped right in. As my history of betting will attest, inevitably he was beaten. He wasn’t beaten by much and being a young, inexperienced horse, it wasn’t exactly a disastrous performance, but like a lot of punters who measure ability via their pockets, the experience coloured my future dealings with him. From that moment onwards, he would need to work hard to worm his way back into my affections, something very few horses have achieved or will care about.
When the rivalry with Kauto Star emerged, I naturally sided with the artisan rather than the power of Denman and by default – not dissimilar to the Blur v Oasis pointless skirmish of the 1990s – having a preference for one automatically meant having to maintain a dislike for the other, even if privately you could appreciate the merits of both. Racing traded on the polarisation of the stable-mates and for those reasons perhaps Denman didn’t enjoy the universal support afforded to the likes of Dawn Run or Dessie. But there was something about Denman’s relentlessness that was impossible not admire. Brute strength isn’t always the most pleasing on the eye, but when it’s produced time after time after time, it has to be acknowledged and appreciated. “He galloped them into the ground” stands out in my memory as the oft-heard comment summarising his most dominant performances. Before too long, the manufactured tribal loyalties had to be suspended and his brilliance recognised.
Looking as his record, it’s surprising how little he actually won for a horse with his reputation. Obviously he won more often and more of the big races than 99% of horses in training, but he lacked the stranglehold over an event that Kauto Star and others in the same stratosphere had. He picked up his races like a slap-dash antique enthusiast might – dipping in and out to take what he liked; a Lexus Chase here, a Hennessy there – that sort of thing. His Gold Cup came in 2008 and the manner of it was impressive. Despite mistakes with his jumping and a general lack of fluency, he stuck with it and in the end put seven lengths between himself and another legend destined for racing’s Hall Of Fame in Kauto Star. For me the highlight of a stellar career was his ‘giving weight to all’ victory in the Hennessy Gold Cup of 2009, a win that had more than a few tinges of Arkle’s amazing gravity-defying displays of the 1960s. It’s amazing to think that race is his last victory, but he remained a powerhouse and a star attraction in the 3 mile chasing division, even when his powers had begun to succumb to age.
There had been talk of sending him for a tilt at the Grand National. With his high rating and his advancing years, he’d almost certainly be a 12 year old Grand National debutant carrying top weight. From a coldly academic point of view, it would have been fascinating to see if he could muster one more astonishing display of power to shoulder that burden to victory, but from a more sentimental one, it’s nice that he has been spared the perils of the Aintree showpiece. He owes us nothing and doesn’t deserve that.
With the damage to my pocket now long since forgiven, I hope he enjoys a long and grass-filled retirement.
Thank you, Denman.
– To save you the hassle of buying the Racing Post today, Pricewise is tipping up Mostly Bob in the 1.45 Cheltenham.
– Back to the racing now and defending Welsh Grand National winner, Synchronised isn’t certain to go to Chepstow over Christmas. His trainer, Jonjo O’Neill may be tempted to send him across to Leopardstown for the Lexus Chase, depending on how crappy the Irish weather gets and how soft the ground will be for the Grade 1 contest. He’s currently a 16/1 shot for the Irish race, which probably says more about the likelihood of him coming to Dublin rather than his actual ability. Setanta
– It’s a case of ‘good news, bad news’ for Graham Lee although in this case the good news probably won’t feature too highly on his radar. The jockey suffered a double fracture to his collar bone in a fall at Huntingdon on Thursday – a fall from a horse I might add – he’s not really clumsy and fell whilst walking somewhere. The early assessment is he’ll be out of action for a month, meaning he’ll miss some big rides over the Christmas period (booooooo!) but he’ll be able to attack the turkey and mince pies with a little more relish than normal this year (slightly subdued yaaaaaaaay!). Sporting Life
Random Paddy Power Employee Christmas Racing Tip Of The Day
Eavan Keane – Team A Little Bit Of Everything
“Becauseicouldntsee in the Paddy Power Chase at Leopardstown. Firstly, because it’s a brilliant name for a horse and secondly, I think he’s due for a win. It’s a scientific system. That’s how I make so much green [makes a rather strange gesture with her fingers clearly intended to represent money, but looks more like she’s trying to coax some toilet paper out of an immobile dispenser] at Cheltenham.”