It’s that time of year when the smell of freshly cut grass intertwined with Guinness, expectation and the culmination of almost a year’s anticipation come together.
It can only mean one thing… CHELTENHAM!
So with the final touches being added to Prestbury Park and excitement starting to hit full flow, we have decided that now is a nice time to look back at three fantastic Festival memories!
Springtime often brings out the best of the best in National Hunt racing, and the match-ups between the elite have often created memorable clashes up the testing Cheltenham hill.
However, it is not only the top-class animals on show that make it a fantastic spectacle, but the thrills and spills along the way, leaving racing fans on the edge of their seats for four fantastic days in March.
So sit back, relax and reminisce as we take you for a stroll through memory lane with one of the greatest Cheltenham memories in recent years.
Denman v Kauto Star – 2008 Cheltenham Gold Cup
It was the race that captivated a nation.
National Hunt racing never really reaches the front pages apart from when the Grand National comes around, but in 2008 we had two warriors from the Paul Nicholls stable to hold onto, which really captivated the general public’s interest in the approach to Cheltenham.
It was a ‘tank versus a Maserati’ as Denman’s part-owner Harry Findlay put it, as the 2007 Cheltenham Gold Cup winner, Kauto Star, was putting his crown on the line against the brute Denman.
The Star’s attractive white blaze had endeared him to many, who followed the gelding as he swept all before him in the two previous years, showing his class when landing the Gold Cup in fine fashion in 2007.
However, Denman had crept through and after a fine career over hurdles, he showed a captivating attacking nature at his fences, jumping boldly and grounding rivals into submission.
The belief from connections was that he was the real deal and as the new pretender continued to impress in the build-up to the Cheltenham engagement, he and his stablemate split the racing public.
Were you in the Kauto Star or Denman camp?
People were talking as if it was one of the great duels of the past, reminiscent of Arkle versus Mill House, and past generations were able to weigh in with how the pair would match up with the former legends.
The build-up had hyped the match-up into the biggest focal point of the meeting for many a year. The flair of showman Kauto versus the brash no-nonsense Denman had well and truly split the betting public, the racing public and in some parts, the general public.
Denman entered the big race as the 9/4 underdog, despite his eight-race unbeaten record which included the RSA Chase and Hennessy victory. His vocal fans gathered in their thousands as Sam Thomas had the chance to maintain his partnership with the relentless galloper.
He was sent out to track early leader Neptune Collonges and this is where he stayed during the early parts of the race, after the crowd had erupted into rapturous cheers to send the field on their way.
As usual, he jumped magnificently from towards the head of affairs, ensuring a typically strong gallop to test any question marks over his opponents’ stamina. He eased to the front at the twelfth, as Kauto loomed large in behind, seemingly travelling strongly for Ruby Walsh.
However, the real increase in tempo caught Kauto by surprise and sloppy jumps at the thirteenth and fourteenth fences gave Denman real impetus to push on from the front.
He had Kauto Star on the ropes as a long way out, as anticipation grew from his legions of fans and the jeers and cheers grew louder from the packed stands.
Kauto dug deep to pass the reliable Neptune Collognes and begin to close the gap on the leader but Denman was all heart, finding reserves many would struggle to fathom as he maintained a relentless pace.
He jumped superbly uphill to claim the coveted Gold Cup for what would be the only time in his life, leading home a Paul Nicholls 1-2-3, with Kauto Star in second and Neptune Collonges in third.
We had the finish that the storyline deserved, with the pair battling it out like the warriors they were. It was a fantastic Gold Cup that captivated a new age of racing fans, as well as cementing the sport in the heart of many who had endured the tumultuous ups-and-downs over the years.
It was a race to savour and those who have been yearning for another classic encounter will be excited at the prospect at this year’s quality-packed Gold Cup. You can check out all the latest odds here at Betfred.
Odds subject to change.