Chris McGrath: End of the road for 'The Tank' Denman

Inside Track

Trainers and jockeys sometimes talk affectionately of horses that "would gallop through a brick wall for you". By the same measure, Denman would have pulverised the Matterhorn.

But the champion known as "The Tank" has ultimately proved no less dependent than any other steeplechaser on each of the minute cogs that together support and galvanise his monstrous physical capacity. Sure enough, the discovery of a "tiny" tendon injury yesterday prompted his trainer, Paul Nicholls, to end a career that had set the gold standard for some of the most vaunted jumpers of the modern era.

One of them, Kauto Star, is famously housed in the very next stall, and their public rivalry in turn condensed the emergence of a yard in rural Somerset as the most powerful in the land. But the very fact that a caterpillar track has finally broken loose should remind everyone how all the great equine careers are one part brilliance, and nine parts constitution. That may be most obviously true over jumps, but John Oxx always said that it was only his robust physique that allowed Sea The Stars to stand the training – and racing – that elevated him to a different level on the Flat.

Denman was never out of the first two at six consecutive Cheltenham Festivals. Second over hurdles in 2006, he blew apart the best novice chasers the following year and was scarcely less merciless to Kauto Star himself in the 2008 Gold Cup. Those were heady days, and it must be remembered how everyone enjoyed his oddball ownership, then divided between Harry Findlay and Paul Barber. Both men served the game well at the time. Denman went on to finish runner-up in three consecutive Gold Cups since, and meanwhile compounded his status as best of losers when seeking his third Hennessy Gold Cup last season. Having won off 161 in 2007, this time he finished third off 182 while conceding 18lb or more to all his rivals. By that stage, his very involvement had come to lend an immediate epochal quality to proceedings.

For their mutual benefit, he will remain stabled next to Kauto Star. His disappearance from the public stage, however, heightens the sense of privilege and valediction now surrounding his neighbour's every move. Even a miracle of soundness like Denman, after all, has sometimes disclosed the frailties of their breed. After winning the Gold Cup, he was sidelined for several months with – of all things – a heart problem. It almost seemed as though he had been sent to show how even so giant a frame of bone and sinew will never contain the ardour that can evolve in nature.

But the same great flame can sometimes burn as bright even in the puny breast of mankind. The big handicap at Cheltenham today, for instance, is run as the Spinal Research Atlantic 4 Gold Cup – honouring four intrepid oarsmen rowing 3,000 miles between the Canaries to Barbados to raise funds for the eponymous charity. The race is sponsored by Andy Stewart, whose son is making an inspiring recovery from spinal injuries suffered in a snowboarding accident. Naturally, it also strikes a melancholy chord with a sport that daily exposes riders to parallel risks. Anyone who has witnessed Paul Stewart's progress, however, can testify that an indomitable will to win through is not confined to the sort of brutish survival instinct and sheer brawn that sets apart a creature like Denman.

After a couple of marrow-shuddering falls this week, it would be rather poignant to see Tony McCoy bounce back on Sunnyhillboy (2.30). Many had expected the champion to ride Quantitativeeasing, on topical grounds if no other, but he is paring himself down to a lighter weight for a good reason. Sunnyhillboy was breathing down Great Endeavour's neck here at the Festival last season, but while the winner has since soared 22lb in the handicap, he has inched up just 8lb. Moreover, Great Endeavour is set his third very tough assignment in four weeks, while Sunnyhillboy has just had a spin over hurdles to put him straight.

Another horse on a hectic programme is Overturn, whose joyous approach might have been borrowed from Denman himself. He does seem to thrive on hard work and as such it seems illogical to assume he will not see out the hill in the Stan James International Hurdle. That would seem a more pertinent question of Grandouet. In his present heart you would not want to desert Overturn (3.05). If he can hold out once again, you might even treat his performance as some sort of monument to Denman – and hope that their indefatigable example can be matched by those four young men, out there straining against the wind and waves.

www.justgiving.com/theatlantic4

Turf Account

Chris McGrath's Nap

Sunnyhillboy (2.30 Cheltenham)

Has long suggested he has a race like this in him, and looks primed for this one after an eye-catching return over hurdles. Still at the right end of the handicap, and McCoy is hungry to prove he made the right call.

Next Best

Morning Moment (3.20 Doncaster)

Still on the upgrade and jumped superbly at Haydock last time, only reeled in late over an extreme distance, and brings far fewer questions than most of his rivals.

One To Watch

Gaspara (David Pipe) suggested she retains ability when returning from a long absence at Taunton on Thursday.

Where The Money's Going

Hinterland was laid to 9-1 from 10-1 with William Hill for the JCB Triumph Hurdle on the eve of his Festival reconnaissance at Cheltenham today.

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
AKB48 perform during one of their daily concerts at Tokyo’s Akihabara theatre
musicJapan's AKB48 are one of the world’s most-successful pop acts
News
Ian Thorpe has thanked his supporters after the athlete said in an interview that he is gay
people
News
The headstone of jazz great Miles Davis at Woodlawn Cemetery in New York
news
Arts and Entertainment
Brendan O'Carroll has brought out his female alter-ego Agnes Brown for Mrs Brown's Boys D'Movie
filmComedy holds its place at top of the UK box office
News
newsBear sweltering in zoo that reaches temperatures of 40 degrees
Arts and Entertainment
Professor Kathy Willis will showcase plants from the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew
radioPlants: From Roots to Riches has been two years in the making
Arts and Entertainment
TV The follow-up documentary that has got locals worried
Arts and Entertainment
Eminem's daughter Hailie has graduated from high school
music
Arts and Entertainment
Original Netflix series such as Orange Is The New Black are to benefit from a 'substantial' increase in investment
TVHoax announcement had caused outrage
Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur
fashion

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

News
One Direction star Harry Styles who says he has no plans to follow his pal Cara Delevingne down the catwalk.
peopleManagement confirms rumours singer is going it alone are false
Caption competition
Caption competition
Daily World Cup Quiz
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Dynamics CRM Developer (C#, .NET, Dynamics CRM 2011/2013)

£40000 - £60000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Dynamics CRM D...

Web Developer (C#, ASP.NET, AJAX, JavaScript, MVC, HTML)

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Web Developer ...

C# R&D .NET Developer-Algorithms, WCF, WPF, Agile, ASP.NET,MVC

£50000 - £67000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# R&D .NE...

C# Developer (Web, HTML5, CSS3, ASP.NET, JS, Visual Studios)

£40000 - £50000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Developer (...

Day In a Page

Super Mario crushes the Messi dream as Germany win the 2014 World Cup in Brazil

Super Mario crushes the Messi dream

Germany win the 2014 World Cup in Brazil
Saharan remains may be evidence of the first race war, 13,000 years ago

The first race war, 13,000 years ago?

Saharan remains may be evidence of oldest large-scale armed conflict
Scientists find early warning system for Alzheimer’s

Scientists find early warning system for Alzheimer’s

Researchers hope eye tests can spot ‘biomarkers’ of the disease
Sex, controversy and schoolgirl schtick

Meet Japan's AKB48

Pop, sex and schoolgirl schtick make for controversial success
Iraq crisis: How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over the north of the country

How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over northern Iraq

A speech by an ex-MI6 boss hints at a plan going back over a decade. In some areas, being Shia is akin to being a Jew in Nazi Germany, says Patrick Cockburn
The evolution of Andy Serkis: First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

The evolution of Andy Serkis

First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial: Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried

You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial...

Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried
Refugee children from Central America let down by Washington's high ideals

Refugee children let down by Washington's high ideals

Democrats and Republicans refuse to set aside their differences to cope with the influx of desperate Central Americas, says Rupert Cornwell
Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Malorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
Blackest is the new black: Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...

Blackest is the new black

Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...
Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

The US Ambassador to London holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence – it's all part of the job, he tells Chris Green
Meet the Quantified Selfers: From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor

Meet the 'Quantified Selfers'

From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
Madani Younis: Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Madani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

When it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish – among others – know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor