Just when we thought we had the new Arkle in our midst, the news reaches us all that the Paul Nicholls trained, magnificent Denman has developed a heart problem or more accurately a slow heart rate, ahead of the 2008/9 National Hunt season. As a result he has been taken out of the Hennessy Gold Cup in November, a race he won with consummate ease in 2007.
Fortunately the news does not look as bad as first thought and Nicholls remains bullish about having his potential superstar back to racing by Christmas. For National Hunt fans it would be massive disappointment if he were not to make it. Denman who is owned by well known racing enthusiast and professional gambler, Harry Findlay, was a complete revelation last year who just continued to improve race after race. So emphatic were his victories that stable jockey Ruby Walsh even became confused as he had been riding the stables more established superstar, Kauto Star. He rode Kauto to Cheltenham Gold Cup success in 2007 and at the start of last season, Kauto was the buzz horse and Denman a mere pretender to his crown.
In the event Walsh stuck with Kauto Star and was made to suffer by watching Sam Thomas romp home well ahead of him on Denman in the Gold Cup 2008. Denman was absolutely unstoppable and the manner of his victory was so impressive that it was thought there was no horse living or dead that could ever get near to him. There is no doubt that there are similarities between stablemates Denman and Kauto Star to those other legendary stablemates, Arkle and Flyingbolt. The latter two were trained by top Irish trainer, Tom Dreaper and they still remain the highest two rated steeplechasers ever. Unlike Denman and Kauto however, Arkle and Flyingbolt never met on the track, but stable rumours at the time suggested that Flyingbolt may have been the better of the two.
Unfortunately, and this is where there another similarity looms, Flyingbolt contracted an illness when aged 7 and his form never improved. It was a tragedy that no race-goer would like to see happen again. Flyingbolt will be remembered for his astonishing performance at the Cheltenham Festival in 1966, when he won the Queen Mother Champion Chase and came runner up in the Champion Hurdle in the first two days of the festival. Arkle of course won the Cheltenham Gold Cup three years in succession in 1964/5/6
Let us all hope therefore that a similar fate to that of Flyingbolt does not befall this new genuine superstar, Denman. The bookmakers think he will be back and already have him as 6/4 favourite to win the Gold Cup for the second successive year and also have him favourite for the 2009 Aintree Grand National.