Harry Findlay admits he will be a satisfied man if Denman finishes an honest second to Kauto Star in tomorrow's totesport Cheltenham Gold Cup.
Two years ago the outspoken owner and gambler shouted from the rooftops after Denman crushed the 2007 champion.
But after a heart problem that interrupted the 10-year-old’s last campaign, and went some way to explaining his second-place finish behind Kauto Star last spring, Findlay is expecting to again take minor honours.
Despite Denman humping top weight to victory in the Hennessy earlier in the season, Denman dumped champion jockey Tony McCoy on the floor at Newbury last month.
Findlay believes that punishing initial success at Cheltenham may still have left its mark.
He said: “My wish is that Denman turns up and puts in a great performance.
“If he turns up and gets beat two or three lengths by Kauto Star, then I will be thrilled.
“The day we won the Gold Cup, Tony McCoy said that the race would leave its mark and that we needed to be careful with him.
“I spoke to him last week and I think that he still half-thinks that.
“He might have won the Hennessy giving away two stone but I don’t think it was the same Denman who won the Gold Cup. He was on fire that day.
“We are unlikely to be so aggressive this time but we had to do it then as it was the only way of beating Kauto Star.
“We had that nice, sticky ground in 2008 and that was harder for Kauto to jump out of.
“If we go off in front this time it will play to Kauto’s strengths and Carruthers being in the race is great news for us as he will give us a tow and provide pace.”
Despite his recent racecourse flop, Findlay has been encouraged by Denman’s recent homework and travelled to Paul Nicholls’ Ditcheat stable last week to watch him school under his big-race partner.
“You can forget the form – he is Jack the Lad,” said Findlay.
“When he schooled last week all went OK but, McCoy still had to push and shove him along.
“To train Denman and keep him sweet is a fine art and Nicholls has done a great job.
“When Denman is in form he is lethal and I hope the Gold Cup sparks him back up as, on his day, he is unbeatable.”
Cynics leapt from the shadows to criticise McCoy as a replacement for Sam Thomas in light of Ruby Walsh opting to partner Kauto Star, but Findlay believes fellow part-owner and Nicholls’ landlord, Paul Barber, has long had designs on the 14-times champion.
“I have always been a massive Tony McCoy fan and, in my heart of hearts, I knew he would get the ride,” said Findlay.
“It was either going to be Tony, Sam or Christian Williams, so the jockey wasn’t an issue for me.
“Barber had been sniffing around and looking at McCoy as a rider for Denman before now.”
Despite Denman and Kauto Star having provided Nicholls with domination of the Gold Cup in recent years, it is with the latter to whom the champion trainer has forged the closest bond.
“We all know that Kauto is his favourite horse and that doesn’t annoy me, but it might annoy Barber a bit!” Findlay commented.
“I am a dogs man and if I was a trainer and I had the equine equivalent of Kauto Star then I would want him in my corner.
“Denman has won Nicholls a Gold Cup and has been a good horse but as a trainer champions are special, and that is what Kauto is.
“This will be the best Kauto Star we have ever seen. He is so fresh and well and I actually love Kauto. I just hope we are there two out with a chance.
“Kauto was short for his first run at Haydock and then on his second he looks like a missile in the King George.
“I never think Kauto gets the respect he deserves and one of the reasons I make a living is that people don’t like the champions.
“If you took away the money I’d made from the likes of (Roger) Federer, (Tiger) Woods, Kauto, Denman, Eric Bristow and Steve Davis then you’d have a loser.
“He is the best three-mile-plus chaser for the last 40 years.
“I am not saying he is unquestionably the best Gold Cup horse but from 1978 when I started – and the 10 years before – he is the best.”