Kauto Star secured his place in the history books as he became the first horse to regain the totesport Cheltenham Gold Cup with a superlative display.
Paul Nicholls’ charge had been topped by stablemate Denman last season, but had his revenge as he powered up the hill to score by 13 lengths under Ruby Walsh.
The 2008 Gold Cup was all about the clash of Nicholls’ stable stars but the close-fought battle all had hoped for never really materialised on that occasion as Kauto Star turned in a lacklustre show.
However, that was not the case this year as Denman showed he is fully recovered from his heart problems earlier in the campaign by serving it up to 7-4 favourite Kauto Star.
Both Walsh and Sam Thomas aboard Denman were content to let Nicholls’ third string Neptune Collonges cut out the early running, settling on his heels before making their respective moves three fences from home.
The Queen’s Barbers Shop also looked like taking a hand in the finish briefly but he was left standing as the two heavyweights settled down to slug it out.
Kauto Star made his superior turn of foot tell up the Cheltenham Hill, kicking on for Walsh to leave Denman toiling in his wake.
The runner-up kept on admirably to hold the fast-finishing Exotic Dancer, who progressed from the rear of the field to finish another two and a half lengths in arrears.
Walsh, who was bagging his seventh winner of the Festival, said: “He’s the greatest horse I’ve ever ridden. Two miles, three miles, now two Gold Cups. He’s magic, he’s a wonder horse.
“He travelled super all the way. I planned to follow Christian (Williams, on Neptune Collonges) over the second last, but he pinged four out, pinged three out and two out as well. I love him.
“When Sam (Thomas, on Denman) moved up alongside me I didn’t know what was going to happen off the bend.
“But in all fairness to him he has picked up, winged the second-last and galloped all the way to the line.
“Denman has run an incredible race because two weeks ago it was 50-50 whether he was going to run or not and he has turned into the straight upsides in a Gold Cup, an incredible performance.”
Nicholls said: “He’s fit, he’s fresh, he was never going to get beat today, but what a race Denman ran – two weeks ago you’d have drawn stumps. It was a huge run from him and he’ll be back next year.
“Kauto Star was fresh, very fit and the ground came right. He’s a very good horse.
“My Will finished fifth as well, he ran a blinder. He will go to Aintree now with a massive chance.
“Neptune Collonges (fourth) ran a cracking race, the ground had just gone against him.
“But to get Kauto Star here today and Denman to run as good as that will give everyone pleasure as well. What an unbelievable horse Kauto Star is.”
Totesport make Kauto Star a 5-2 chance for a Gold hat-trick next year and Nicholls added: “We know Kauto has to be fresh and we will just have three runs next season, Down Royal, Kempton and then back for a third Gold Cup.”
Owner Clive Smith added: “I’m staggered. What a wonderful run, the best he’s ever run I think. It’s unbelievable to have won the Champion Chase (with Master Minded) and now this. I can’t believe it.”
Denman is a 7-2 chance to grab the crown back off his stablemate next term and Harry Findlay, part-owner of Denman, is looking forward to round three.
He said: “It was so hard for us going into the race because we’ve said many times there is only one way to beat Kauto round here and we were never in a position to do that today.
“Like Paul said, two weeks ago we were a doubtful runner. I said two years ago I thought the pace of the race in the Gold Cup was so beneficial to Kauto Star and after a few fences today I thought he was a 4-7 shot.
“So for Denman to run so well off that pace – he’s murdered them everywhere because they were genuinely going at two-and-a-half-mile pace throughout.
“I thought it was an outstanding performance, Sam (Thomas) was so happy with him, we were all so happy with him.
“I watch things as a gambler, not an owner, and my immediate reaction was that he’d be a great punt for next year and hopefully there’ll be no problems with Denman now and we can have the decider next year.
“That would be so good for racing so with Ruby on Kauto and Sam on Denman, if Paul gets them both back again it could be fireworks.”
Jonjo O’Neill is now eyeing a crack at the John Smith’s Grand National with Exotic Dancer, although he would have to shoulder 11st 10lb at Aintree.
O’Neill said: “I think we should run him in the National as it may well suit him.
“Touch wood, he would jump and travel well round there and as he likes passing horses, that would also favour him and I think we are well-in.”
Exotic Dancer finished fifth in last year’s renewal of the Gold Cup, and O’Neill added: “Unfortunately it seems that when Kauto Star disappoints, that’s the day we always do, too.”