03/13/2008 11:00PM

Denman best in Cheltenham Gold Cup

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Denman maintained his perfect steeplechase record on Friday with a scintillating victory in the Cheltenham Gold Cup, handing defending champion and Paul Nicholls-trained stablemate Kauto Star a seven-length defeat in the 3 5/16-mile, $901,000 contest that invariably crowns Britain's, if not the world's, champion chaser.

Nicholls covered himself in glory as his Neptune Collonges sped home for third, failing by a short head to catch Kauto Star at the wire. The trainer's first three in the great chase recalled Michael Dickinson's feat of having trained the first five home in the 1983 Gold Cup.

Now the winner of all nine of his steeplechase races, the 9-4 Denman and his rider, Sam Thomas, took command at the halfway point and gave none of his 11 rivals a chance afterward. The 11-10 favorite, Kauto Star, had to scramble for second in an uncharacteristic off day, while the 25-1 Neptune Collonges ran the race of his life.

An Irish-bred 8-year-old co-owned by Paul Barber and professional gambler Harry Findlay, Denman is now 13 for 14 lifetime.

In landing the Gold Cup, Denman completed a memorable Cheltenham Festival for Nicholls, who also won the Queen Mother Champion Chase on Thursday with Master Minded by an incredible 19 lengths.