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Denman takes key step on Cup trail; Wincanton gallop pleases team after wind operation.

Byline: Lee Mottershead and Andrew King

DENMAN'S connections are hoping the latest piece of physical fine-tuning to the superstar chaser will provide the priceless edge that could enable him to emulate stablemate Kauto Star by regaining the Totesport Cheltenham Gold Cup. The 2008 Gold Cup winner, arguably jumping's most popular performer, yesterday delighted trainer Paul Nicholls when setting foot on a racecourse for the first time since undergoing a breathing operation that was carried out soon after his heroic effort to finish third off a welter rating of 182 in the Hennessy Gold Cup. Nicholls (right), who first revealed news of the surgery late on Saturday night, was present at Wincanton, where Denman, second in the Cheltenham Gold Cup for the last two years, was set his biggest physical test since vet Geoff Lane cauterised the palate of the 11-year-old, who in September 2008 was treated for a fibrillating heart. Although not seriously tested in the gallop, Denman nevertheless left Nicholls, owner Paul Barber and big-race jockey Sam Thomas more than satisfied after giving off only favourable signals at the end of the 2m test that was completed alongside champion long-distance hurdler Big Buck's. Victor Chandler reacted positively by cutting the veteran to 6-1 from 7-1 in his bid to become the oldest winner of jump racing's premier prize since the Ryan Price-trained What A Myth triumphed as a 12-year-old under Paul Kelleway in 1969. A similarly upbeat reaction came from Thomas, who rode Denman to his famous defeat of Kauto Star at Cheltenham three years ago. Thomas said: "It's impossible to assess the effect of the operation in a two-mile workout, but in a race like the Gold Cup you're always looking for an edge, so if the operation has helped the horse it has to be a bonus. "He worked with Big Buck's, who is obviously a very good horse, and to put in a good piece of work with him was very pleasing. "Cheltenham is still a long way off but he felt great this morning and I couldn't be happier with him. He's exactly where Paul wants him to be and I know I wouldn't want to swap him for anything else in the race." Nicholls, who suffered the pain of losing his youngest Gold Cup hope, Pride Of Dulcote, at Ascot on Saturday, said Denman had performed "very nicely" in the Wincanton exercise. Explaining his decision to ask Lane to operate, Nicholls wrote in his Betfair column that he was seeking to give the stayer "every possible chance of winning at Cheltenham". He said: "In last year's Gold Cup and the Hennessy I didn't think he was finishing the races as well as he could. "Before Denman first ran in Ireland he had a hobday operation but he didn't have his soft p alate cauterised, so we had that done a week after the Hennessy, and I just hope that it will improve him slightly and allow him to finish off his races a little better." Speaking after what was a busy morning for the champion trainer, Nicholls added: "Big Buck's pleased as well and he looks spot-on ahead of trying to win the World Hurdle again. "I also took Poquelin, who goes for the Ryanair Chase, and Ghizao, who will run in the Arkle. All the horses had a very nice day out andwe're very pleased with the way things went." William Hill last night issued their own vote of confidence in the trainer's festival squad, quoting him at 5-6 to saddle the most Cheltenham winners in a match against Nicky Henderson, offered at 13-8. The firm priced up a tie between the two at 9-2.


Denman: Gold Cup odds shortened to 6-1 by Victor Chandler
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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:The Racing Post (London, England)
Date:Feb 21, 2011
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