Sport is often all about rivalries. Whether it is between two teams, two nations or just two individuals. We have the likes of Roger Federer v Rafael Nadal, the New York Yankees v the Boston Red Sox, Liverpool v Manchester United, Brady v Manning, England v Australia, Fischer v Spassky, India v Pakistan, Senna v Prost. I could just go on and on naming some of the most intense rivalries in the world of sport over the years but there was one that captivated me a few years back in a sport which I rarely watch, Horse Racing.
Just to set the scene, the two combatants weren’t two jockeys, they were two horses. Both of whom belonged to the same stable. Paul Nicholls trained both Denman and Kauto Star and between them they had won the Blue Riband event at the Cheltenham Festival between 2007 and 2009. Kauto Star won it first before being dethroned by his stablemate only to gloriously take back the crown in 2009. They were two of the greatest jump horses of their generation and they happened to essentially be next door neighbours. It was one of the rare times when the event of the Festival was superseded by two horses who were built up to be on course for a dramatic fourth meeting in 2010.
The build up was intense as horse racing lovers split into two camps about who would come out on top. Kauto Star was the darling of the racing industry and had long been seen as the greatest jumps horse of his generation. Whilst it would be unfair to say that this was a two-horse race, that is exactly how it felt. If you weren’t on one of these two then you probably weren’t going to be seeing victory.
Sadly for everyone who was hoping to see Kauto Star go out on top, it wasn’t to be as he would fall at the 19th but the biggest surprise was that it wasn’t his stablemate Denman that crossed the line first. Imperial Commander won the race having gone off at 9/1 and the 4/1 Denman came home in second place. For the 8/11 favourite Kauto Star, many saw it as a shame that his career wouldn’t end in glory.
The great one though came back in 2011 and at the grand old age of 11 was the darling of the punter. Despite failing to win the King George VI Chase for the first time in five years the previous Boxing Day, the overwhelming sentimental favourite went off at 5/1 as he looked to take home his third Gold Cup title. Alas for all of us who have sentimental bones in our bodies, he’d be beaten not only by Denman who finished second but by the 7/2 favourite Long Run.
It was the beginning of the end but he showed us that like all great champions, he had one final great performance in him and he went back to Kempton Park on Boxing Day 2011. He would beat Even money favourite Long Run to win his fifth and last King George VI Chase to seal his place in the pantheon of true greats of the track.
One of the great parts of sporting rivalries is how you can support your favourite not only by cheering them on but also by backing them at the bookies. Seeing your favourite horse cross the line first is made ever sweeter by knowing a few quid is coming your way as well. Companies like WilliamHill will have plenty of special promotions heading into the Cheltenham Festival this March and you’d be foolish not to give them a look over. The 2018 event may not have Denman v Kauto Star but they’ll be plenty of great horses to back and roar on to victory.
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