Denman hits stride with renewed sheen

Former Gold Cup winner proves a star draw at Exeter meeting without even racing

It says a lot for the jump racing faithful that more than usual of them turned out at the top of a rainswept Devon hill on a chilly, gloomy midweek afternoon just to watch a horse not compete in a race. The draw was Denman, brought along to Exeter for a day out by trainer Paul Nicholls ahead of his seasonal comeback in the Hennessy Gold Cup 17 days hence at Newbury.

The massive gelding is a notoriously difficult athlete to condition at home, a strapping individual who does no more than he has to when work is not for real. An exercise such as yesterday's, inducing attention and tension, serves to sharpen both mind and body and though Denman had to sing for his supper by being present as his owners Paul Barber and Harry Findlay opened a new building that bears his name, Nicholls was happy to go along with the anthropomorphism.

He was also pleased with his charge's performance and condition as he galloped a circuit of the undulating track under Ruby Walsh, accompanied by stablemate Beshabar. Last season, after heart problems, Denman never really sparkled physically; yesterday, though rendered dark and sleek by rain, his liver chestnut coat had a healthy tone depth and his muscles a bull-like bulk.

The nine-year-old had to be given a couple of focusing slaps by Walsh as he rather loped round the soggy course but despite his apparent lethargy he soon had Beshabar on the stretch and pulled easily clear, without being asked much, on the run past the grandstands. "I didn't want a serious gallop today," said Nicholls, "just a day at the races to tighten him up all round and this has been ideal.

"Last season was dreadful, nothing much went right with him but he's so much stronger this time and we've been able to get on with him properly. He's so much better when he's heavier and can work. He did a really good piece of work on Saturday when we put the gun to his head properly but he always goes better at the track than at home and I was pleased to see him pick the bridle up coming up the straight here. He's a different horse to last year and this will all have done him the world of good."

It was at Exeter as a novice that Denman started the unbeaten run of nine steeplechase victories that culminated in last year's Cheltenham Gold Cup, hence his celebrity status there. He launched his first senior season with victory in the Hennessy under top-weight, which he will have to carry again. "We brought him here and did the same sort of thing back then," said Nicholls. "He's got to start somewhere, and he loves Newbury and is unbeaten there. If he runs to his Gold Cup form he'll be hard to beat and all being well he'll take the same route afterwards, to the Lexus Chase in Ireland."

The Nicholls conveyor belt is starting to crank up in earnest; the trainer's Manor Farm team took three of yesterday's six prizes at Exeter on an afternoon when ability to cope with testing conditions was key, with chasing debutants Inchidaly Rock and Take The Breeze and novice hurdler The Minack.

At the weekend he will unleash another of his stable stars in earnest when Master Minded turns out at Cheltenham on Sunday in the new Connaught Chase, for which nine were declared yesterday. The dual Champion Chase hero's rivals may include last term's runner-up for the two-mile crown, injury-plagued Well Chief. On the same afternoon in Ireland the Champion Hurdle favourite Hurricane Fly is scheduled to make his eagerly-awaited seasonal debut at Punchestown after a satisfactory workout yesterday morning.

Plans for those who competed at the Breeders Cup continue to emerge. Dar Re Mi, who proved herself Europe's best middle-distance filly with her third in the Turf against males, will remain in training as a five-year-old, as will another of her sex, the sprinter Fleeting Spirit. But the colt Mastercraftsman will not race again; the son of Danehill Dancer, winner of the Irish 2,000 Guineas and St James's Palace Stakes and fourth in the Mile at Santa Anita, is to join his sire, this year's champion-elect, at Coolmore Stud.

Turf account: Sue Montgomery

Nap

Thumbs Up (3.10 Bangor) Returns to novice company and a course and distance over which he has won before.

Next best

Recif De Thaix (2.20 Warwick) Showed a good attitude to win his bumper and although he faces more experienced rivals on his chasing debut, will know his job.

One to watch

Though not the biggest cheese in his yard, Maska Pony (G Moore) looks certain to win over hurdles once stepped up in distance.

Where the money's going

Harry Tricker was cut two points yesterday to 6-1 favourite by Paddy Power for Sunday's Greatwood Hurdle at Cheltenham.

Chris McGrath's Nap

High Jack (1.20 Warwick)

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
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

Savvy Media Ltd: Media Sales executive - Crawley

£25k + commission + benefits: Savvy Media Ltd: Find a job you love and never h...

Austen Lloyd: Corporate Solicitor NQ+ Oxford

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: CORPORATE - Corporate Solicitor NQ+ An excelle...

Reach Volunteering: Financial Trustee and Company Secretary

Voluntary Only - Expenses Reimbursed: Reach Volunteering: A trustee (company d...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Project Manager

£45000 - £65000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Day In a Page

In a world of Saudi bullying, right-wing Israeli ministers and the twilight of Obama, Iran is looking like a possible policeman of the Gulf

Iran is shifting from pariah to possible future policeman of the Gulf

Robert Fisk on our crisis with Iran
The young are the new poor: A third of young people pushed into poverty

The young are the new poor

Sharp increase in the number of under-25s living in poverty
Greens on the march: ‘We could be on the edge of something very big’

Greens on the march

‘We could be on the edge of something very big’
Revealed: the case against Bill Cosby - through the stories of his accusers

Revealed: the case against Bill Cosby

Through the stories of his accusers
Why are words like 'mongol' and 'mongoloid' still bandied about as insults?

The Meaning of Mongol

Why are the words 'mongol' and 'mongoloid' still bandied about as insults?
Mau Mau uprising: Kenyans still waiting for justice join class action over Britain's role in the emergency

Kenyans still waiting for justice over Mau Mau uprising

Thousands join class action over Britain's role in the emergency
Isis in Iraq: The trauma of the last six months has overwhelmed the remaining Christians in the country

The last Christians in Iraq

After 2,000 years, a community will try anything – including pretending to convert to Islam – to avoid losing everything, says Patrick Cockburn
Black Friday: Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Britain braced for Black Friday
Bill Cosby's persona goes from America's dad to date-rape drugs

From America's dad to date-rape drugs

Stories of Bill Cosby's alleged sexual assaults may have circulated widely in Hollywood, but they came as a shock to fans, says Rupert Cornwell
Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

As fans flock to see England women's Wembley debut against Germany, the TV presenter on an exciting 'sea change'
Oh come, all ye multi-faithful: The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?

Oh come, all ye multi-faithful

The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?
Dr Charles Heatley: The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

Dr Charles Heatley on joining the NHS volunteers' team bound for Sierra Leone
Flogging vlogging: First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books

Flogging vlogging

First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show: US channels wage comedy star wars

Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show

US channels wage comedy star wars
When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine? When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible

When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine?

When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible