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Page last updated at 17:15 GMT, Sunday, 8 March 2009

Thomas dreaming of golden repeat

Sam Thomas and Denman
Sam Thomas and Denman were the shock winners of the 2008 Gold Cup

Sam Thomas prepares to defend his Cheltenham Gold Cup crown hailing his ride Denman as a "Rolls Royce".

The Welsh jockey announced his arrival on the big-time racing stage when he rode Denman to glory and beat champion Kauto Star at the 2008 Gold Cup.

"Denman is like a Rolls Royce, he jumps well, a pleasure to ride and makes rides uncomplicated," Thomas said.

Denman has had time out due to an irregular heartbeat and Thomas endured two last-fence falls in big races.

The 24-year-old was unseated at the last fence on Kauto Star - favourite for Friday's Gold Cup - in the Betfair Chase at Kempton in November and Big Buck's in the Hennessey Gold Cup.

But after a rollercoaster year for both rider and horse since the day they secured sporting immortality on the edge of the Cotswolds, Thomas and Denman are dreaming of deja vu.

Denman lost by 23 lengths to Madison Du Berlais in February on his seasonal reappearance at Kempton following his heart complaint.

That was the nine-year-old's first race since leading a Paul Nicholls 1-2-3 in the 2008 Gold Cup ahead of stablemates Kauto Star and Neptune Collonges.

And he goes into Friday's big race as third favourite behind those two, with Kauto Star again highly fancied to regain the crown he won in 2007.

"Kauto Star will be very difficult to beat," Thomas told BBC Radio Wales' The Back Page show.

"He has had less races this season as he gets older although he seems to be as good as ever.

"Neptune Collonges improves as he gets older but while I'm very happy riding Denman, if I wasn't on him I'd love to be on Kauto Star.

"But I do love Denman, he allows you to get on with your job."

Thomas, who feared for his Gold Cup ride aboard Denman, has recovered from his pre-Christmas wobbles to defend his title.

"I'm delighted we're back in the race and we hope to retain our crown," said the Abergavenny rider.

"It is one of the biggest races in the jumping calendar. It's either that or the Grand National jockeys want to win.

"Winning the Gold Cup was the biggest day of my life and I'd give anything to do that again.

"We had our doubts about Denman but he had a run at Kempton a few weeks ago and we expect him to improve.

"Everything is going in the right direction. We hope to have him spot on in time.

"I did have a rocky patch and the media jumped on the bandwagon, they made it hard work for me.

"But I haven't had a bad season. I had a couple of bad races but I never lost confidence and I've won a few winners.

"Now I feel I'm riding as well as I was last year - if not better."

Cheltenham Gold Cup entries:
(Form, Horse, Age, Trainer)

511-225 AIR FORCE ONE (GER) 7 Charlie Mann
113-4P23 ALBERTAS RUN (IRE) 8 Jonjo O'Neill
4121-21 BARBERS SHOP 7 Nicky Henderson
0P/50PP- CERIUM (FR) 8 Paul Murphy
11/1111-2 DENMAN (IRE) 9 Paul Nicholls
353-231 EXOTIC DANCER (FR) 9 Jonjo O'Neill
3242-232 HALCON GENELARDAIS (FR) 9 Alan King
122-1U1 KAUTO STAR (FR) 9 Paul Nicholls
16UP-10 KNOWHERE (IRE) 11 Nigel Twiston-Davies
425F-611 MADISON DU BERLAIS (FR) 8 David Pipe
112P-0U MIKO DE BEAUCHENE (FR) 9 Robert & Sally Alner
32023/-5 MY WILL (FR) 9 Paul Nicholls
1/3131-F NEPTUNE COLLONGES (FR) 8 Paul Nicholls
1225-13P ROLL ALONG (IRE) 9 Carl Llewellyn
331320P SNOOPY LOOPY (IRE) 11 Peter Bowen
1/11/3-024 STAR DE MOHAISON (FR) 8 Paul Nicholls
23/-1132 WAR OF ATTRITION (IRE) 10 Mouse Morris IRE

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see also
Denman dismissed as Gold Cup hope
07 Mar 09 |  Horse Racing
Nicholls pair head Gold Cup list
07 Mar 09 |  Horse Racing
Nicholls reveals Gold Cup jockeys
18 Feb 09 |  Horse Racing
Denman is out of Grand National
09 Feb 09 |  Horse Racing
Denman outpaced in comeback race
07 Feb 09 |  Horse Racing
Kauto secures King George treble
26 Dec 08 |  Horse Racing
Master Minded triumphs at Sandown
06 Dec 08 |  Horse Racing
Madison Du Berlais wins Hennessy
29 Nov 08 |  Horse Racing
Snoopy Loopy exploits Kauto fall
22 Nov 08 |  Horse Racing
Denman in clear after heart scare
25 Sep 08 |  Horse Racing
Denman storms to Gold Cup victory
14 Mar 08 |  Horse Racing

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