When he retired from racing, as an 11-year-old, Denman had won 14 of his 24 starts, including the Hennessy Gold Cup (twice), the Royal & SunAlliance Chase and the Cheltenham Gold Cup. Owned by Paul Barber and the ebullient professional gambler Harry Findlay and trained by Paul Nicholls, Denman was unbeaten in his first four starts over hurdles, including an easy 21-length win in the Challow Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham on New Year’s Day in 2006. He returned to Cheltenham for the Royal & SunAlliance Novices’ Hurdle the following March, but tasted defeat for the first time, going down by 2½ lengths to Nicanor.
Sent over fences in 2006/07, “The Tank”, as he became known, won all five starts, culminating with a convincing 10-length beating of Snowy Morning in the Royal & SunAlliance Chase at the Cheltenham Festival. After a break of 262 days, he reappeared at Newbury in December where, carrying 11st 12lb, he impressively won the Hennessy Gold Cup by 11 lengths from Dream Alliance.
He subsequently won the Lexus Chase at Leopardstown over Christmas and the Aon Chase at Newbury the following February so, by the time the 2008 Cheltenham Gold Cup rolled around, he started at just 9/4 to dethrone the reigning champion, his stable companion Kauto Star. The forecast duel between the two Nicholls’ “big guns” never really materialised, though, because Denman went clear soon after the fourth last fence and, thereafter, Kauto Star could make no impression and eventually finished second, beaten 7 lengths.
In the September following his Cheltenham Gold Cup triumph, Denman was diagnosed with an irregular heartbeat and, although he returned to training following treatment, it’s fair to say he was never, quite, the same horse again. He did manage to win the Hennessy Gold Cup for a second time, again under 11st 12lb, and finish second in the Cheltenham Gold Cup in 2010 and 2011, so Lord knows what he might have achieved had he stayed healthy for the whole of his career. Denman has enjoyed a happy retirement and currently looks after the young horses on the farm belonging to his owner Paul Barber.