The Paul Nicholls-trained 11-year-old was embarking upon what was likely to be his final campaign, which was due to begin in the Lexus Chase, a race he won four years ago, at Leopardstown on December 28.
But once a tendon injury was discovered after a routine piece of work earlier this week, owner Paul Barber and trainer Paul Nicholls had no hesitation in retiring the 2008 Cheltenham Gold Cup and dual Hennessy Gold Cup winner.
“It’s a pity that a great horse ends his career in disappointing fashion like that, rather than in the Gold Cup, which was the plan”, said Ruby Walsh.
“You’d think at this stage of his life, he wouldn’t be getting tendon injuries like that but the good news is that it’s not life threatening and hopefully he’ll have a wonderful retirement.
“The so-called rivalry between Denman and Kauto Star and the profile it gave racing was brilliant. Or at least it was until he beat me and Kauto in the Gold Cup! The two horses actually get on great and, for that reason, Paul is going to keep Denman in the box next to Kauto for the duration of the campaign because Kauto would miss him and it’s important that he is kept happy for the rest of the year.
“Obviously, I didn’t ride Denman when he won his Gold Cup in 2008, but I did win on him seven times. Of those, I thought his best performance was when he won that second Hennessy Gold Cup two years ago under top weight, giving 22 pounds to a horse of the calibre of What A Friend. It was a brilliant effort from a wonderful horse.
“That turned out to be his last win and he had a couple of problems, but ran a brilliant race in the Gold Cup again last year, finishing second in the race for a third successive year. He was a genuinely great racehorse.
“He owes nobody nothing, he’s been a fantastic horse and he’ll have the best of everything now.
“Having come back from a major heart problem, a lot of horses wouldn’t have done that.
“He astounded me after the problem as he ran moderately at Kempton and then finished second in the Gold Cup. If it hadn’t have been for that, he might well have won another Gold Cup.”
Owner Barber hailed Denman as “one of the greats”
“Two great races stick out for me, obviously his Gold Cup win of 2008, but also his second win in the Hennessy – I thought that was a huge performance.
“We’ve decided to retire him as there was no way I was ever going to take any chances with him.
“He’s given us so much pleasure – he’s been a wonderful horse for us.”
Denman enjoyed a successful career in novice hurdles but marked himself as a real star when switching to fences and destroying his rivals by upwards of 10 lengths in the Royal & SunAlliance Chase at the 2007 Cheltenham Festival.
Nicholls’ inmate won his first Hennessy nine months later, after which he secured victory in the Lexus Chase in Ireland on his next start.
But his finest hour came in March 2008 when he revelled in a showdown with stablemate Kauto Star in the Cheltenham Gold Cup, with Denman galloping to glory by seven lengths under Sam Thomas – although his old rival reversed that form in 2009.
Thomas said: “It’s a sad day, but I am very glad that his injury happened on the gallops and not on the racecourse, because it could have been much worse.
“The 2008 Gold Cup was the best day of my life – he was a great horse to be associated with.
Trainer Nicholls said: “We are all devastated here at Ditcheat but Denman has given us some wonderful moments on the track, winning a Gold Cup, finishing runner-up in three more, as well two Hennessys, a Lexus and a SunAlliance Chase.”
“He will be given an honourable retirement. But for the immediate future and to help his great friend Kauto Star, he will be kept in his box next to Kauto for the rest of season.
“Denman will always be a legend here at Ditcheat.”