He’s gone. The Tank is no more. Denman, the horse that once shoved his big backside into me to tell me my time in his stable was up, has died aged 18.
Great is a word I use rarely when it comes to sport. The word is sprinkled around like confetti, so losing its true meaning.
Denman was a truly great racehorse. He gave countless people so much pleasure.
This three and a half minute summary of his career, written and voiced by another great, Alastair Down, has brought tears to my eyes. It was an ambitious film, organised by Neil Green and Nick Lightfoot when they worked for the much missed by me, Channel 4 Racing. Superbly produced and directed, the icing on the cake of this film are the words of Alastair Down – the wordsmith equivalent of Denman.
I loved the beast. If I feel like this when I only met Denman a few times, imagine how those who loved and cared for him at the Ditcheat stables of Paul Nicholls feel this morning. Likewise those who had been fortunate enough to own Denman and who treated him kindly in retirement.
There was a time not so long ago when you thought Denman and his next door neighbour at the stables, Kauto Star, would be racing forever and a day. Taking on opposing horses at Cheltenham. Taking each other on yet again.
They were for so long the stable stars. Kauto Star loved the attention he received from the coach parties who took advantage of the ‘open house’ policy Nicholls operates. It was brilliant that people from far and wide could come and visit Denman, Kauto Star and the many other quality racehorses at home in deepest Somerset.
While Kauto Star welcomed visitors, you always got the impression that Denman could have happily lived without the equine tourists. He tolerated them.
Denman didn’t need telling that he was great. He knew it.
Denman lived up to his nickname “The Tank.” He was big, strong and as gutsy as they came. You’d have gone to war with Denman.
Perhaps the best legacy Denman and Kauto Star leave behind is the fact that they attracted more people to racing than any public relations exercise could ever hope to do. They were the best advertisement for racing. Proof that, at its best, National Hunt racing can make the hairs on the back of your neck stand to attention.
As they do now when, not for the first time, I watch Denman win races like this one.