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


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)

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Bafetibis Gomis of Swansea City is stretchered off at White Hart Lane
Jerry Seinfeld Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee
peopleSitcom star urges men to be more supportive of women than ever
Life and Style
Living for the moment: Julianne Moore playing Alzheimer’s sufferer Alice
Jay Z
businessJay-Z's bid for Spotify rival could be blocked
footballLouis van Gaal is watching a different Manchester United and Wenger can still spring a surprise
The spider makes its break for freedom
A propaganda video shows Isis forces near Tikrit
voicesAdam Walker: The Koran has violent passages, but it also has others that explicitly tells us how to interpret them
Arts and Entertainment
Ashley Young celebrates the winner for Manchester United against Newcastle
footballNewcastle v United player ratings
Life and Style
love + sex
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

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

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Senior Accountant - ACCA, ACA or ACMA - Construction Sector

£45000 - £50000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior Accountant (ACCA, ...

Recruitment Genius: Media Sales Executive - PR and Broadcast - OTE £35,000

£16000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company has an exciting op...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Advisor - Shifts

£17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This European market leader for security...

Recruitment Genius: Freelance AutoCAD Technician

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Freelance AutoCAD Technician is required to ...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable
Living with Alzheimer's: What is it really like to be diagnosed with early-onset dementia?

What is it like to live with Alzheimer's?

Depicting early-onset Alzheimer's, the film 'Still Alice' had a profound effect on Joy Watson, who lives with the illness. She tells Kate Hilpern how she's coped with the diagnosis
The Internet of Things: Meet the British salesman who gave real-world items a virtual life

Setting in motion the Internet of Things

British salesman Kevin Ashton gave real-world items a virtual life
Election 2015: Latest polling reveals Tories and Labour on course to win the same number of seats - with the SNP holding the balance of power

Election 2015: A dead heat between Mr Bean and Dick Dastardly!

Lord Ashcroft reveals latest polling – and which character voters associate with each leader
Audiences queue up for 'true stories told live' as cult competition The Moth goes global

Cult competition The Moth goes global

The non-profit 'slam storytelling' competition was founded in 1997 by the novelist George Dawes Green and has seen Malcolm Gladwell, Salman Rushdie and Molly Ringwald all take their turn at the mic
Pakistani women come out fighting: A hard-hitting play focuses on female Muslim boxers

Pakistani women come out fighting

Hard-hitting new play 'No Guts, No Heart, No Glory' focuses on female Muslim boxers
Leonora Carrington transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star

Surreal deal: Leonora Carrington

The artist transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star
LGBT History Month: Pupils discuss topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage

Education: LGBT History Month

Pupils have been discussing topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage
11 best gel eyeliners

Go bold this season: 11 best gel eyeliners

Use an ink pot eyeliner to go bold on the eyes with this season's feline flicked winged liner
Cricket World Cup 2015: Tournament runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

Cricket World Cup runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

The tournament has reached its halfway mark and scores of 300 and amazing catches abound. One thing never changes, though – everyone loves beating England
Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Heptathlete ready to jump at first major title

Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Ready to jump at first major title

After her 2014 was ruined by injury, 21-year-old Briton is leading pentathlete going into this week’s European Indoors. Now she intends to turn form into gold
Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot