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Kauto Star & Denman set for Cheltenham Gold Cup battle

Cheltenham Festival
Venue: Prestbury Park Date: 16-19 March
Coverage: Live text commentary and daily reports on BBC Sport website & mobiles. Live daily coverage on BBC Radio 5 live sports extra (1300-1400) and 5 live (1400-1600) and television coverage on Channel 4 (1230-1615)

Trainer Paul Nicholls with his Cheltenham Gold Cup winning horses Kauto Star (left) and Denman
Kauto Star (left) became the first horse to recapture the Gold Cup last year

By Frank Keogh
BBC Sport at Cheltenham

Two champion horses. Two great jockeys. Two sets of contrasting owners. And one showdown that is the most anticipated race in decades.

Kauto Star v Denman III may sound like a movie, and there is sure to be drama before the winner of the 2010 Cheltenham Gold Cup is known sometime after 1530 GMT on Friday.

This is not just a two-horse race. There are nine other contenders, including two in Imperial Commander and Cooldine who have been impressive previous Cheltenham Festival winners.

However, it is the story of Kauto and Denman - the 10-year-olds who live in adjacent boxes at the Somerset yard of Paul Nicholls - that has captured the imagination ahead of this battle in the Cotswolds.

Neigh-bours, horsehold names, War of the Wolds, call it what you will, it shows the abiding attraction of jump racing is not the jockeys, trainers or owners, but the equine stars.


Unlike in Flat racing, where Derby winners can be retired aged just three, and after little more than 18 months' racing, the National Hunt game gives us names to remember.

Red Rum won three Grand Nationals and was second in two while Desert Orchid landed a Gold Cup and four victories in five years in the King George VI Chase at Kempton on Boxing Day.

Kauto Star, with four King Georges in consecutive years and two Gold Cups, and 2008 Gold Cup champion Denman, a dual Hennessy Gold Cup winner under big weights - deserve to be mentioned in the same breath.

They just keep coming back for more. Denman won the big novices' chase at the Festival three years ago at the same meeting where Kauto was on his first gold run.

Every day since Kauto became the first horse to recapture the Gold Cup, when he beat his stable-mate last year, has counted down to a potential rematch.

Kauto Star owner Clive Smith (left) and Denman part-owner Harry Findlay share a joke at the Cheltenham Festival
Kauto Star owner Clive Smith (left) and Denman part-owner Harry Findlay

More than 6,000 scarves in the horse's respective colours were sold before this Cheltenham meeting began. Kauto has edged it in sales, as he has in polls to discover people's likely winner.

Race sponsors Totesport commissioned a double-decker bus, emblazoned with the words 'The Decider' to promote the clash. It greeted fans arriving for the Carling Cup final at Wembley and Six Nations matches at Twickenham.

Racing's marketers and headline writers have been billing it as a head-to-head to rival boxing's Ali v Frazier or Coe v Ovett on the running track.

In this case, it is the French-bred Kauto, owned by Surrey-based golf course entrepreneur Clive Smith, against Denman, who was born in Ireland and is owned by two Englishmen - millionaire professional gambler Harry Findlay and wealthy dairy farmer Paul Barber.

Lucinda Gould, the groom who looks after Denman, has said: "He and Kauto Star are like chalk and cheese.

"Kauto's like a typical Frenchman, suave and smooth, while if Denman were human he'd be a red-headed, rugby-playing Guinness-drinking Irishman."

AP told me he would consult with Paul Nicholls but probably ride Denman aggressively, so he has the best chance of winning the race

Mick Fitzgerald

The equine battle is made more intriguing by the men on top - this is also Ruby Walsh v Tony McCoy.

Walsh, 30, from Kildare, is the most successful Cheltenham Festival jockey of all time after he surpassed Pat Taaffe, the jockey of legendary steeplechaser Arkle.

McCoy, 34, from County Antrim, is based in Lambourn, Berkshire. He has not just rewritten the record books, he has set up his own library - a 14-time champion with more than 3,000 winners.

Walsh is a patient, quiet rider in the saddle, his posture moulding perfectly with the horse he has compared to the footballer Cristiano Ronaldo.

McCoy is the ironman. He hates to lose, and once berated his assistant Gee Armytage for running a marathon. "What's the point of that if you can't win," is his reported comment.

They are fierce rivals and close friends. Walsh, who splits his time between Ireland and the UK, is a regular lodger at McCoy's house.

McCoy, who is known as AP (he's Anthony Peter), has only ridden Denman once on a racecourse, and he was unshipped by his mount in a shock Aon Chase defeat at Newbury in February.

Close friend Mick Fitzgerald, who won the Gold Cup for Nicholls on See More Business in 1999, says McCoy will be unfazed by any criticism of that ride and perspective is needed.

Kauto Star is the greatest horse I have ever ridden and has nothing to prove

Ruby Walsh

"Everybody wanted Kauto Star v Denman to be the great match-up, but they are not the only two horses in the race," he said.

"Imperial Commander was within a nose of beating Kauto Star in the Betfair Chase at Haydock in November and is a previous winner at the Festival. He's a horse who loves Cheltenham and comes to life here, while Cooldine also won here last year.

"AP told me he would consult with Paul Nicholls but probably ride Denman aggressively, so he has the best chance of winning the race.

"One thing is for sure, AP McCoy will not walk out of Cheltenham wishing he'd done something else. He'll have a game plan in his mind."

Fitzgerald has ridden Kauto Star, and won a Tingle Creek Chase on him over the minimum racing distance of two miles. The fact he has gone on to be a chaser just as comfortable over more than three miles and two furlongs shows his versatility.

"When I rode him, he was absolutely amazing. I couldn't hold him, he virtually ran away with me," said Fitzgerald.

A third Gold Cup victory would seal Kauto Star's place as a true great, but Walsh feels no need for his legacy to be laid down.

"He's the greatest horse I have ever ridden and has nothing to prove," said Walsh, who chose him in preference to Denman as in the previous two years.

"If Denman is back to his Hennessy form, he will run a big race. It depends on how the horses turn up and how they run on the day."

The horse's owners are convinced Kauto Star and Denman will fill the first two places, but history has a lesson for us.

Twenty years ago almost to the day, a horse that would win the King George four times went into the Gold Cup as a reigning champion and odds-on favourite.

Desert Orchid was beaten into third as Norton's Coin, trained by Welsh dairy farmer Sirrell Griffiths who milked his cows before heading to Cheltenham, shocked the sporting world with a 100-1 victory.

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see also
Gold Cup runners and riders
18 Mar 10 |  Horse Racing
Imperial Commander lands Gold Cup
19 Mar 10 |  Horse Racing
Kauto v Denman tale of the tape
12 Mar 10 |  Horse Racing
The Kauto Star story
29 Oct 12 |  Horse Racing
Big Buck's cruises to Hurdle win
18 Mar 10 |  Horse Racing
Kauto backed for Cheltenham glory
27 Dec 09 |  Horse Racing
Historic Gold Cup win for Kauto
13 Mar 09 |  Horse Racing
Horse Racing results on your mobile
15 Feb 10 |  Horse Racing

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