Diamond Harry posts a sparkling display

Williams' well-backed gelding foils top-weight Denman's brave bid for an unprecedented third Hennessy Gold Cup

If it was a failure, it was a gallant and glorious one. Denman did not win an unprecedented third Hennessy Gold Cup here yesterday but by looking as if he might until the 20th of 21 fences he gave the frozen faithful in the grandstands an emotion-wrenching winter heartwarmer. They responded by cheering the big gelding and his rider, Sam Thomas, throughout; in flight over the birch and ditches, in his fight through the closing stages and in his unbowed might as he returned to the spot reserved for the third-place finisher.

They also gave a rousing reception to the winner of this classiest staying handicap chase of the season, Diamond Harry, who signalled his emerging talent as he took advantage of his light weight. Carrying 10st to Denman's 11st 12lb, the seven-year-old was always among the leaders and, with Daryl Jacob in the saddle for the first time, put in an exhibition round of jumping.

A relentless pace was set for more than a circuit by Hey Big Spender on testing ground suited those who were able to maintain a rhythm, none more so than Diamond Harry and Denman. The pair came into the home straight together and settled to the battle. A slight mistake by Diamond Harry four out handed the advantage to Denman, but Diamond Harry, a well-backed 6-1 shot, regained his equilibrium and the two rose to the third last, the final open ditch, as one. But it was clear the young pretender, the star of Nick and Jane Williams's small Devon string, had the old warrior's measure and a mistake from Denman at the penultimate fence settled the issue.

Another lightweight, Burton Port, recovered from a blunder at the cross fence well enough to stay on for second, a length and a quarter adrift. It was 14 lengths back to Denman, who held his own Paul Nicholls stablemate The Tother One at bay by half a length, with Niche Market fifth.

Diamond Harry, in the colours of Paul and Janet Duffy, was running in a chase for only the fourth time; he was a talented staying hurdler early last season but after being firmly put in his place by the king of that division, Big Buck's, was diverted to fences.

"The horse has changed physicallya lot in the last six months," said Nick Williams, who combines training with an accountancy business, "and he has a good record here, so I thought this was the race for him.

"Coming into the straight I could see Daryl hadn't moved. From three out I would have been astounded if anything had got past him."

Jacob was just as confident, though quick to acknowledge Denman's effort. He said: "If we were going to beat him it had to be today, but he was still right there with me at the second-last. But I'd sat on mine during the week, and I'd told Nick I'd never ride one like him again.

"He gave me the same feel today; he jumped, he travelled, he did everything I asked him to. And he's a young horse, and still unexposed, still growing into his frame. The Gold Cup is a way off – he was getting all that weight today – but we can dream."

Lightweights in handicaps are by definition horses who have not achieved as much as those rated above them, but this is a contest that can spotlight upwardly mobile types who can progress to mixing it with the best when the playing field is level.

Diamond Harry may be given his chance in the Grade One Lexus Chase at Leopardstown after Christmas. Bookmakers are divided over his Cheltenham Gold Cup chances, though, rated between 8-1 and 14-1.

Denman, who won the Hennessy in 2007 and last year under the same welter burden and started 4-1 favourite yesterday, was trying to achieve what even Arkle could not; the peerless one went down by half a length to Stalbridge Colonist, conceding 35lb, when trying to win his third edition back in 1966. The 10-year-old will not run again until the Gold Cup.

"He had a hard race," said Thomas. "But then, he always does, because he always gives it everything he's got. He'll sleep well tonight."

Of the two reigning champions to make their seasonal debuts here, Big Buck's return to action went smoothlyin the Long Distance Hurdle, but a ring-rusty Binocular could finish only third to the Donald McCain-trained Peddlers Cross in the Fighting Fifth Hurdle as he began the defence of his Champion Hurdle crown.

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
Wolf (Nathan McMullen), Ian (Dan Starky), The Doctor (Peter Capaldi), Clara (Jenna Coleman), Santa Claus (Nick Frost) in the Doctor Who Christmas Special (BBC/Photographer: David Venni)
tvOur review of the Doctor Who Christmas Special
News
peopleIt seems you can't silence Katie Hopkins, even on Christmas Day...
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: Stanley Tucci, Sophie Grabol and Christopher Eccleston in ‘Fortitude’
tvSo Sky Atlantic arrived in Iceland to film their new and supposedly snow-bound series 'Fortitude'...
Arts and Entertainment
Kellie Bright as Linda Carter and Danny Dyer as Mick Carter

EastEnders Christmas specials are known for their shouty, over-the-top soap drama but tonight the show has done itself proud thanks to Danny Dyer.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Call The Midwife: Miranda Hart as Chummy
tvCall the Midwife Christmas Special
Sport
Laura Trott and Jason Kenny are preparing for the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow
sport
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Bruce Forsyth with Tess Daly in the BBC's Strictly Come Dancing Christmas Special
tvLouis Smith wins with 'Jingle Bells' quickstep on Strictly Come Dancing's Christmas Special
News
news
Arts and Entertainment
tv
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

Recruitment Genius: Account Manager

£20000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This full service social media ...

Recruitment Genius: Data Analyst - Online Marketing

£24000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We are 'Changemakers in retail'...

Austen Lloyd: Senior Residential Conveyancer

Very Competitive: Austen Lloyd: Senior Conveyancer - South West We are see...

Austen Lloyd: Residential / Commercial Property Solicitor

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: DORSET MARKET TOWN - SENIOR PROPERTY SOLICITOR...

Day In a Page

Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there