Denman was universally eased by the bookmakers for the totesport Cheltenham Gold Cup after unshipping champion jockey Tony McCoy in the Aon Chase at Newbury.
Coral eased Paul Nicholls’ 10-year-old out to 7-2 for the showdown against his stablemate Kauto Star at Cheltenham on March 19, with sponsors totesport offering 11-4.
Kauto Star is odds-on across the boards to successfully defend his crown, with Ladbrokes shortest at 4-7 and William Hill offering 4-5.
McCoy stepped into the plate for the first time to acquaint himself with the 10-year-old after Ruby Walsh nailed his colours to Kauto Star ahead of the Gold Cup.
Denman was a country mile clear on ratings but the 1-6 favourite was not striding away from the pack as expected, with McCoy’s look over his shoulder on the home turn revealing Niche Market still in the slipstream.
He was still tanking when ploughing through the fourth-last before blundering and unseating his pilot at the next obstacle having surrendered the lead to Niche Market.
Irish National winner Niche Market was reeled in on the run-in with Nicholls and Walsh still nabbing the spoils as Tricky Trickster (8-1) nailed him by a short head.
McCoy said: “I was a little disappointed after the cross-fence when I gave him a squeeze. I looked behind and thought Niche Market would be further behind than he was.
“It just felt like that when I squeezed him that he wasn’t picking up.
“I am not saying that he might have been beaten anyway as he is a lazy horse and if I had given him a smack he might have flown up the straight.
“It’s one of those things. I’m disappointed for Paul Nicholls, Harry Findlay and Paul Barber because they let me ride him when a lot of people think I shouldn’t be riding him. Hopefully I will get another chance in the Gold Cup, we will see.
“I’ve had enough disappointments in racing to not let it bother me. All you can do is try to go out and do your best next time.”
Nicholls said: “What happened to Denman is a blow to everyone, but by no means can you write him off and we have five weeks to get him back.
“Going back to a championship race will suit him as this was a muddling race, and Kauto only won a head from L’Ami in this before winning the Gold Cup.
“Five weeks down the line he can be a different horse and knowing him I wouldn’t write him off.”
He added of the winner: “Once Denman had gone he has picked up and run on well. His next start will be in the Gold Cup.”
Outspoken part-owner Harry Findlay had his stride broken by the result, and said: “He went to the fourth-last four in front and came out 10 behind.
“It was such a bad mistake, but it might be a blessing in disguise that McCoy fell off as he was beaten after the first mistake.
“If everything is fine between now and the Gold Cup and we are bowling along after five or six fences we are clear second-favourite but this isn’t what we expected, especially after the first lap.
“I thought he jumped great for AP and there is no doubt (he will ride at Cheltenham).”
Tricky Trickster and Niche Market catapulted themselves into 12-1 joint favouritism with Sky Bet for the John Smith’s Grand National, and the latter’s trainer Bob Buckler said: “I’m gutted about getting beaten like that but it was a super run.
“The aim has always been the National, and there’s the possibility of going for the William Hill at Cheltenham first.”