McCoy rides Denman in Gold Cup

Tony McCoy will ride Denman in the totesport Cheltenham Gold Cup on March 19.

Tony McCoy will ride Denman in the totesport Cheltenham Gold Cup on March 19.

McCoy received the call-up to partner the brilliant chaser as Ruby Walsh, Paul Nicholls’ first-choice rider, has remained loyal to stablemate Kauto Star.

The 14-times champion jockey has yet to ride Denman, but will be at the helm for the Aon Chase at Newbury on Saturday week before renewing acquaintance at Cheltenham.

Joint-owner Paul Barber told the Daily Telegraph: “In fairness to Paul Nicholls, we had to lay the ghost.

“I’m sure Ruby would have wanted another four weeks to decide, but we have reached our decision – McCoy rides.”

Denman has only ever been ridden under Nicholls’ tutelage by Walsh, Christian Williams and Sam Thomas.

Thomas did the steering when the popular chestnut won the 2008 Gold Cup, defeating the Walsh-ridden Kauto Star by seven lengths, but was also on board when he fell at Aintree last spring.

Barber feels the recruitment of McCoy will bolster the chances of Denman wresting away the Gold Cup from Kauto Star, who last year became the first horse in history to regain the Cheltenham showpiece.

He said: “We know that to be taking on Ruby on Kauto Star, we need to have a jockey who is at least his equal.

“We wouldn’t want a situation where we were theoretically giving away several pounds. You can’t do that if you want to win a Gold Cup.”

McCoy is relishing the prospect of going head to head with Walsh and Kauto Star in March.

“On Friday night I went to bed dreaming of Gold Cups,” said the jockey. “Needless to say, I am delighted to be riding Denman at Cheltenham and I can’t wait to take on Ruby on Kauto Star.”

McCoy, who secured 3,000 jumps winners last February, claimed the Gold Cup in 1997 aboard the Noel Chance-trained Mr Mulligan.

The nearest he came last decade was when Exotic Dancer finished second to Kauto Star three years ago.

Denman’s chances of winning this year’s Gold Cup were heightened considerably by his remarkable success in the Hennessy Gold Cup in November.

Before that, however, many questioned whether he would ever be the same horse following his 2008 win at Cheltenham, after which he was found to have been suffering with an irregular heartbeat.

He did not run again since February 2009, when he came home a weary second in a Grade Two at Kempton.

Although the son of Presenting finished an honourable second in last year’s Gold Cup, his fall at Aintree was thought at the time to have been another significant reverse.

All that changed when he made a dramatic return to action with a glorious triumph in the Hennessy – considered to be one of the greatest weight-carrying performances of all time.

Denman, who is also owned by professional gambler Harry Findlay, is now reported to be thriving in his home-work ahead of next weekend’s Aon Chase.

Barber said: “He jumped magnificently earlier in the week. He is in tremendous form.”

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