Denman, who won the race in 2007 and 2009, is one of three dual winners alongside legendary duo Arkle and Mandarin and another victory on Saturday would see him become the first horse to win the race three times and rank as one of the great jump racing achievements.
Nicholls said he “couldn’t be happier’’ with Denman and the trainer is also pleased with the form shown at a schooling session yesterday by the other four members of his contingent — Neptune Collonges, Taranis, The Tother One and Niche Market ahead of Saturday’s race.
“We schooled our five Hennessy entries over 20 obstacles and all are in top form,” the champion trainer said in his column on www.betfair.com.
“Denman obviously heads the market in his attempt to make history with a third Hennessy win on Saturday, and he really is full of enthusiasm at the moment.
“And, more significantly, he looks great. When he looks so good, that is always a positive sign. Sam Thomas rides.
“We know he loves Newbury, he loves the hustle and bustle of the Hennessy and he seems to come good at this time of year. I couldn’t be happier with him.’’
Of his other runners, Nicholls added: “Taranis worked really well with Neptune Collonges last week in a racecourse gallop and he obviously goes well fresh. Nick (Scholfield) rides.
“Neptune Collonges is big and well too, but he may just need it after his long absence.
“Then again, I thought that about Taranis first time up last season and look what happened there! Noel (Fehily) rides.
“The Tother One’s second to Nacarat in the Charlie Hall wasn’t done any harm by the winner’s performance in the Betfair Chase on Saturday. Ryan (Mahon) rides.
“Ian Popham will be on board Niche Market, as Harry (Skelton) hasn’t recovered in time. He fell first time out for us, but I couldn’t be happier with him and he did finish third in the race last year.”
Meanwhile Denman’s former owner Harry Findlay may have mixed emotions if the 10-year-old defies top weight but the professional gambler says ‘The Tank’ is a worthy favourite for Saturday’s race.
Findlay owned Denman in joint partnership with Paul Barber and the pair enjoyed some emotional victories with the gelding, which included the Cheltenham Gold Cup success in 2008.
But Findlay severed ties with Nicholls in the summer and a little horse-trading followed. Findlay’s share in Denman wastransferred to Barber and Findlay bought Barber’s share in Grand National fourth Big Fella Thanks, who was switched to Ferdy Murphy’s yard.
The pair square off on Saturday, with Denman the 4-1 favourite and Big Fella Thanks, named in honour of Findlay’s champion greyhound and running in his mother Maggie’s colours, a 12-1 chance.
Findlay said: “I never expected to own such a horse as Denman and I’ll never have those experiences again. We enjoyed some great times. All the reports from the Denman camp are very positive and I still think he’ll run a great race on Saturday. He’s a worthy favourite.”
With Denman heading the weights for the race, Big Fella Thanks, who enjoyed his sole success last season in another valuable Newbury event in March, will be required to carry 5lb more than the handicapper intended he should.
“He’s a major runner,” added Findlay. “This was his main target and I was pleased with his run at Carlisle on his first run of the season, despite finishing second.’’
Meanwhile Paddy Brennan admits Weird Al, who is the 11/2 second favourite for the Hennessy has to run a big race at Newbury if he is to be a totesport Cheltenham Gold Cup candidate.
The jockey is chasing a quick big-race double following Imperial Commander’s Betfair Chase win at Haydock and views Denman as the main threat to Ian Williams’ charge.
“At the weights next week against Denman, if he’s going to be a Gold Cup horse he’s going to have to get very close to him or beat him,’’ Brennan said.
“I rode him at Wetherby last year and he gave me a great feel. He was a very nice novice chaser and he was very good at Carlisle, but I think the most interesting thing now is for everybody is to see Denman on Saturday.
“He’s still the horse for me. He’s massive price for the Gold Cup and I still think he’s the one we have to beat.
“He’s definitely a bit forgotten and if he goes and wins the Hennessy, he’ll be shortening up a lot for the Gold Cup I imagine.’’