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
election 2015The 10 best quotes of the campaign
A caravan being used as a polling station in Ford near Salisbury, during the 2010 election
election 2015The Independent's guide to get you through polling day
David Blunkett joins the Labour candidate for Redcar Anna Turley on a campaigning visit last month
voicesWhat I learnt from my years in government, by the former Home Secretary David Blunkett
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
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: Marketing Manager (B2B) - Romford - £40,000 + car

£35000 - £40000 per annum + car and benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager...

Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000 ...

Ashdown Group: Data Scientist - London - £50,000 + bonus

£35000 - £50000 per annum + generous bonus: Ashdown Group: Business Analytics ...

Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Development) - Kingston

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Dev...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: ‘We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon’, says Ed Balls

'We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon'

In an exclusive interview, Ed Balls says he won't negotiate his first Budget with SNP MPs - even if Labour need their votes to secure its passage
VE Day 70th anniversary: How ordinary Britons celebrated the end of war in Europe

How ordinary Britons celebrated VE Day

Our perception of VE Day usually involves crowds of giddy Britons casting off the shackles of war with gay abandon. The truth was more nuanced
They came in with William Caxton's printing press, but typefaces still matter in the digital age

Typefaces still matter in the digital age

A new typeface once took years to create, now thousands are available at the click of a drop-down menu. So why do most of us still rely on the old classics, asks Meg Carter?
Discovery of 'missing link' between the two main life-forms on Earth could explain evolution of animals, say scientists

'Missing link' between Earth's two life-forms found

New microbial species tells us something about our dark past, say scientists
The Pan Am Experience is a 'flight' back to the 1970s that never takes off - at least, not literally

Pan Am Experience: A 'flight' back to the 70s

Tim Walker checks in and checks out a four-hour journey with a difference
Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics - it's everywhere in the animal world

Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics

Voting, mutual back-scratching, coups and charismatic leaders - it's everywhere in the animal world
Crisp sales are in decline - but this tasty trivia might tempt back the turncoats

Crisp sales are in decline

As a nation we're filling up on popcorn and pitta chips and forsaking their potato-based predecessors
Ronald McDonald the muse? Why Banksy, Ron English and Keith Coventry are lovin' Maccy D's

Ronald McDonald the muse

A new wave of artists is taking inspiration from the fast food chain
13 best picnic blankets

13 best picnic blankets

Dine al fresco without the grass stains and damp bottoms with something from our pick of picnic rugs
Barcelona 3 Bayern Munich 0 player ratings: Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?

Barcelona vs Bayern Munich player ratings

Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?
Martin Guptill: Explosive New Zealand batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Explosive batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Martin Guptill has smashed early runs for Derbyshire and tells Richard Edwards to expect more from the 'freakish' Brendon McCullum and his buoyant team during their tour of England
General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'