Ruby Walsh celebrates after Kauto Star's devastating display
Kauto Star made history with a superb run to become the first horse to regain the Cheltenham Gold Cup.
The 7-4 favourite, who won in 2007 before stablemate Denman got the better of him 12 months ago, was back to his brilliant best under Ruby Walsh.
The pair had travelled well throughout the race and pulled clear of Denman just after the third-last fence.
From then on there was only going to be one winner with Denman 13 lengths back in second and Exotic Dancer third.
Walsh always had the nine-year-old well placed and he looked far more confident than he had in last year's race.
The Nicholls stablemates turned into the straight together and the pressure seemed to be on Denman, who was out for 11 months after last year's success with heart problems.
Denman's only run of this season had seen him perform well below par at Haydock following heart surgery, and although he improved greatly on that, he always seemed to be struggling against the winner of this season's King George VI Chase.
By the second last, Kauto had pulled clear and he was chased along by Denman, Exotic Dancer and another Nicholls charge Neptune Collonges, who set the pace here and was third last year.
But the three challengers were unable to get near the winner, who gave Walsh a record seventh win of this year's Festival.
"When Sam (Thomas, on Denman) moved up alongside me I didn't know what was going to happen off the bend," Walsh revealed afterwards.
Everything has gone right - Walsh
"But in all fairness to him he has picked up, winged the second-last and galloped all the way to the line.
"Denman has run an incredible race because two weeks ago it was 50-50 whether he was going to run or not and he has turned into the straight upsides in a Gold Cup, an incredible performance.
"Kauto jumped super, travelled so well all the way and I was probably in front sooner than I wanted but he just took me there.
"He was brilliant two out and pinged the last - which is unusual for him - I've had an amazing week and he was the one I wanted to win with.
"He's the greatest horse I've ever ridden. Two miles, three miles, now two Gold Cups. He's magic, he's a wonder horse."
Nicholls had been confident of the winner's chances going into the Festival and he is now a 5-2 chance to complete the hat-trick next year.
"He's fit, he's fresh, he was never going to get beat today, but what a race Denman ran - two weeks ago you'd have drawn stumps. It was a huge run from him and he'll be back next year," he added.
Hopefully there'll be no problems with Denman now and we can have the decider next year
Denman's owner Harry Findlay
"Kauto Star was fresh, very fit and the ground came right. He's a very good horse.
"My Will finished fifth as well, he ran a blinder. He will go to Aintree now with a massive chance while Neptune Collonges (fourth) ran a cracking race, the ground had just gone against him.
"But to get Kauto Star here today and Denman to run as good as that will give everyone pleasure as well. What an unbelievable horse Kauto Star is."
Owner Clive Smith, who was celebrating his second big-race win of the week, added: "I'm staggered. What a wonderful run, the best he's ever run I think. It's unbelievable to have won the Champion Chase (with Master Minded) and now this. I can't believe it."
Denman's co-owner Harry Findlay was delighted with his charge's display after his problems this season and is already looking forward to next year
"It was so hard for us going into the race because we've said many times there is only one way to beat Kauto round here and we were never in a position to do that today," he said.
"Like Paul said, two weeks ago we were a doubtful runner. I said two years ago I thought the pace of the race in the Gold Cup was so beneficial to Kauto Star and after a few fences today I thought he was a 4-7 shot.
"So for Denman to run so well off that pace - he's murdered them everywhere because they were genuinely going at two-and-a-half-mile pace throughout.
"I thought it was an outstanding performance, Sam (Thomas) was so happy with him, we were all so happy with him.
"I watch things as a gambler, not an owner, and my immediate reaction was that he'd be a great punt for next year and hopefully there'll be no problems with Denman now and we can have the decider next year.
"That would be so good for racing so with Ruby on Kauto and Sam on Denman, if Paul gets them both back again it could be fireworks."
Among the stragglers, the outsider Roll Along put in a sterling performance to take sixth place while The Queen's entry Barber Shop travelled well for much of the race, but struggled in the closing stages and had to settle for seventh.
Cheltenham Gold Cup (3m 2 1/2 furlongs)
1 Kauto Star (R Walsh) 7-4 Fav 2 Denman (S Thomas) 7-1 3 Exotic Dancer (A P McCoy) 8-1
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