What made it all the more tantalising was that these two headline acts were stablemates, actually boxed side by side.
The Cheltenham Festival, 2008.
For those in the Kauto Star camp - could it be a time for a change? Surely not, as he won the Gold Cup the previous year.
Manor House Stables, Dicheat, Somerset had never had it so good. Trainer Paul Nicholls had not one but two super stars on his hands. This was a race which enthused the Cheltenham Roar to a level of decibels so powerful it could deafen a bookmaker at fifty yards.
Decisions, decisions. Even the stable were in conflict. Ruby Walsh had pinned his flag to the mast of Kauto Star. Who wouldn't stick with a winner of the Gold Cup? However, even Walsh admitted to being ''uncertain''. Sam Thomas would take the ride after partnering his charge to destroy a strong field at Newbury when priced 1/4f. Paul Nicholls was confident both horses were 100% ready.
The stage was set.
14th March 2008 - Gold Cup
A twelve-strong field. Big names. Quality horses. This Gold Cup wasn't to be missed. Punters latched onto Kauto Star who was heavily backed to 10/11f, Denman drifting to 9/4. Opinion across England and Ireland divided.
Who would win?
The old-fashioned steeplechaser as big, bold & brash as owner-gambler Harry Findlay had his money down. Denman sat behind another stablemate Neptune's Collonges with Kauto Star poised some five lengths behind. At the twelfth fence ''The Tank'' set off with his relentless galloping style. He hit the next, not fluent four out...but he looked to have the upper hand. As the crowded cheered
Richard Hoiles commentator said:
"Denman, driven out, relentless, remorseless, has pounded Kauto Star into submission. The answer is Denman! Denman has won the Gold Cup."
Denman was born on the 17th April 2000, sired by Presenting from a dam called Polly Puttens. He was bred by Colman O'Flynn in County Cork, Ireland. After winning a point-to-point race at Liscarrol he was purchased by Paul Barber and Harry Findlay trained by Paul Nicholls at Ditcheat, Somerset.
His greatest achievements included twice winning the Hennessey Gold Cup (2007, 2009), Lexus Stakes (2007), Aon Chase (2008) & Cheltenham Gold Cup (2008). His race record reads twenty-four wins, fourteen seconds, five thirds and a fourth placing. Total prize earning were £1,141,347.
Denman's retirement was announced on 9th December 2011. Sam Thomas described his willing partner as ''the best I am likely to ride''. He detailed: ''On his day no horse would beat him''.
A true talent.