Trainer Paul Nicholls will not rush Denman back into action
Cheltenham Gold Cup winner Denman must defy history if he is to successfully defend his title in 2009 after a long lay-off with an irregular heartbeat.
Trainer Paul Nicholls has revealed he may not make his seasonal return until the Aon Chase at Newbury in February.
No Gold Cup winner in the last 20 years has returned so late in the season to win again at Cheltenham in March.
"I'm going to take my time with him," the Somerset-based champion trainer told BBC Radio 5 Live.
Nicholls says stablemate Kauto Star, who lost his Gold Cup crown to Denman in March, is "back to his best" and is being aimed at the James Nicholson Champion Chase at Down Royal in Northern Ireland on 1 November.
Denman handsomely saw off his next-door neighbour - they have adjoining boxes at the Nicholls stable - to triumph at Cheltenham.
But his heart scare means he may return less than six weeks before bidding for a repeat Festival victory.
"Things have changed - with Denman's problem, he's got to come back from that and I actually think Kauto's as good as he's ever been and he's going to be a force to be reckoned with," said Nicholls.
"Clifford (Baker, head lad) rides him (Kauto Star) every day and he's astounded with the way he looks and the way he's going."
Nicholls indicated Denman could run once or twice after Cheltenham, which opens up the possibility of him featuring at Aintree's Grand National meeting, Sandown's finale or the Punchestown Festival in April.