'I had one look behind – I knew I had more'

Denman may be 17.1 hands and 555kg of mighty power, but for his rider, Sam Thomas, his size is deceptive. "For a big horse," he said, "he is extraordinarily light on his feet. And he is as handy and clever as a 13-hand pony." Some pony.

For the 23-year-old Welshman, the race, and its build-up, panned out as simply as ABC, although, given that he is the son of a maths teacher from Abergavenny, 1-2-3 is probably more appropriate. His ride on Denman was confirmed after Ruby Walsh opted to stick with Kauto Star.

"It was a tough, tough decision for him, and I can see why he made it," said Thomas, "but it suited me fine, because I wanted to ride Denman. We didn't discuss much before the race, just wished each other luck at the start and went about our business."

Thomas's job was to settle Denman behind the Paul Nicholls stable's third string, Neptune Collonges. "I was glad to get a lead," he said, "because he tends to get a bit keen if you set him alight in front early, with only fences to aim at. I didn't kick him at any stage; he's just such a good horse, and does everything so easily, that you could easily go too quick on him almost without realising it."

In front of him, young Sam had the wise old head of Mick Fitzgerald on Neptune Collonges, a natural front-runner. Fitzgerald stressed that his job was not as pacemaker, but to ride the grey to obtain the best possible placing – that was very nearly second.

"My game plan was to go even fractions," he said. "When he was eighth last year he got caught in behind, he couldn't cope with the stop-start pace, couldn't use himself. I went out to ride the best race for me – not for Denman, not for Kauto Star – and I knew if I could do 15 seconds for each furlong, that would be the way to do it. My horse is a relentless galloper, a tremendous jumper and a very tough horse. And he gave me a great ride."

Denman's cruising speed and rhythm happened to be that considerable bit faster. "I knew I could go past at any point," Thomas said. "One good leap would do it. And once he took it up, he was loving it more. As soon as he landed, every time he was looking for the next fence, but stayed relaxed.

"I had just the one look behind, going to the top of the hill, and I could see Kauto Star in third. And I knew I hadn't gone that mad, knew I had more. There isn't a word to describe how that felt. I'd been through the race a million times in my head, and it went exactly to plan."

Though disappointed, Walsh was phlegmatic. "He didn't travel as well as he usually travels," he said of the deposed king, "and because he wasn't travelling, he didn't jump as well as he can. He shouldn't have been out of his comfort zone, because he's a horse who has won a Tingle Creek Chase and, although they were going a good old gallop in front, it wasn't two-mile pace. But for some reason he was. But that's racing; it's all about what happens on a particular day, and today wasn't ours."

The Irish v The British

*12.30 David Nicholson Mares Hurdle. Winner Whiteoak (British).

*1.05 Ballymore Hurdle. Winner Fiveforthree (Irish).

*1.40 Coral Cup. Winner Naiad Du Misselot (British).

*2.15 Triumph Hurdle. Winner Celestial Halo (British).

*2.50 Albert Bartlett Novices Hurdle. Winner Nenuphar Collonges (British).

*3.30 Gold Cup. Winner Denman (British).

*4.05 Foxhunter Chase. Winner Amicelli (British).

*4.40 Grand Annual Chase. Winner Tiger Cry (Irish).

*5.20 Vincent O'Brien County Handicap Hurdle. Winner Silver Jaro (Irish).

Final score: Britain 18 Ireland 7.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Billie Piper as Brona in Penny Dreadful
tvReview: It’s business as usual in Victorian London. Let’s hope that changes as we get further into the new series spoiler alert
Life and Style
A nurse tends to a recovering patient on a general ward at The Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham
Arts and Entertainment
No Offence
tvReview: No Offence has characters who are larger than life and yet somehow completely true to life at the same time spoiler alert
Chuck Norris pictured in 1996
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Lucas, I SCREAM DADDIO, Installation View, British Pavilion 2015
artWhy Sarah Lucas is the perfect choice to represent British art at the Venice Biennale
A voter placing a ballot paper in the box at a polling station
Arts and Entertainment
The Queen (Kristin Scott Thomas) in The Audience
theatreReview: Stephen Daldry's direction is crisp in perfectly-timed revival
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

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Dublin

£13676.46 - £16411.61 per annum + OTE: SThree: SThree Trainee Recruitment Cons...

Ashdown Group: Marketing or Business Graduate Opportunity - Norwich - £22,000

£18000 - £22000 per annum + training: Ashdown Group: Business and Marketing Gr...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Are you great at building rela...

Ashdown Group: Database Analyst - Birmingham - £22,000 plus benefits

£20000 - £22000 per annum + excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Application Sup...

Day In a Page

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'
Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

Flesh in Venice

Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
11 best anti-ageing day creams

11 best anti-ageing day creams

Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

Juventus vs Real Madrid

Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power