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Page last updated at 16:37 GMT, Thursday, 12 March 2009
Cheltenham, 10-13 March, 2009

Cornelius Lysaght
By Cornelius Lysaght
BBC racing correspondent

It is perhaps the most intriguing totesport Cheltenham Gold Cup (1520 GMT) in years, thanks to Denman.

If the same Denman that saw off defending champion Kauto Star, plus Neptune Collonges, in monster-like style 12 months ago turns up, he will win again.

Ruby Walsh on Denman
Denman failed to sparkle on his seasonal comeback

But so much has happened since 14 March 2008 when the nine-year-old and jockey Sam Thomas carried off the biggest prize in jump racing.

There was the fibrillating heart, of course, treatment for which meant he couldn't race again until last month, when soundly defeated at Kempton by Gold Cup opponent Madison Du Berlais.

Although others didn't, I accepted the analysis offered by the Paul Nicholls team with regard to the unsuitable track (right-handed and winter ground) and his fitness, or lack of it.

But it does have to be said that the "monster" wasn't there.

However, it would be madness to write off Denman, who himself beat another Gold Cup rival Albertas Run out of sight that day, and it would be no surprise at all to see him bounce back.

Indeed, Nicholls has said: "He has definitely turned the corner. He looks as well and as sharp as he did this time last year." Thomas will again be on board.

The champion trainer insists that Kauto Star, who lifted a third King George VI Chase trophy at Christmas, is the one to beat, but there is a glaring statistic against the 2007 Gold Cup winner, as Ruby Walsh once again takes the ride.

No horse has ever lost and regained a Gold Cup. And the stats don't help Neptune Collonges much either, as horses that are beaten in Gold Cups rarely win it subsequently. That one's bad for Exotic Dancer, too.

Supporters of Madison Du Berlais must consider that in five races at Cheltenham their horse has never won, though jockey Tom Scudamore thinks this longer (3 miles) distance will suit.

Although Albertas Run took the RSA Chase last year, he was well beaten behind Madison Du Berlais and Denman last time out, and will not relish any rain.

All of which brings us on to the Queen's horse Barbers Shop who has not raced since November, but has done nothing but encourage.

He is set to excel at the Gold Cup distance, and has to be very seriously considered, especially at decent each-way odds. Barry Geraghty rides.

Also on day four look out for:

Ask jockey Barry Geraghty for his "ride of the week" and unfortunately he doesn't nominate Barbers Shop (too diplomatic, I'm sure), but - in most unequivocal style - has been naming Zaynar, a big fancy for the JCB Triumph Hurdle (1330).

Cheltenham honours the now retired champion trainer Martin Pipe with the initial running of the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys Handicap Hurdle for jumping's version of apprentice riders (1640). The race will be ultra competitive but Pipe's trainer son David is very keen to win, and is expected to field a very strong hand.

Anyone needing to count off the days until the 2010 Festival should know it starts next year on 16 March.

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see also
Nicholls trio more than just stablemates
12 Mar 09 |  Horse Racing
Denman & Kauto top Gold Cup field
11 Mar 09 |  Horse Racing
Thomas dreaming of golden repeat
08 Mar 09 |  Horse Racing
Cornelius Lysaght column
07 Mar 09 |  Horse Racing
On the gallops with Kauto Star
06 Mar 09 |  Horse Racing
Denman dismissed as Gold Cup hope
07 Mar 09 |  Horse Racing
Cornelius Lysaght column
02 Mar 09 |  Horse Racing
Kauto's the one to beat - Nicholls
18 Feb 09 |  Horse Racing
Denman outpaced in comeback race
07 Feb 09 |  Horse Racing
Kauto secures King George treble
26 Dec 08 |  Horse Racing
Kauto beaten on comeback outing
03 Apr 08 |  Horse Racing
Denman storms to Gold Cup victory
14 Mar 08 |  Horse Racing

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