03/11/2008 11:00PM

Kauto Star defends Cheltenham Gold Cup


Kauto Star defends his Cheltenham Gold Cup title on Friday against a most dangerous opponent in Denman, the winner of all eight of his steeplechase starts to date. Both are trained by Paul Nicholls for the 15-runner, 3 5/16-mile chase over 22 fences.

Kauto Star has won Grade 1 steeplechases in his last three starts, among them the prestigious King George VI Chase at Kempton on Dec. 26. That win and his latest on Feb. 16 in the Ascot Chase were accomplished by a combined 19 lengths.

Denman's eight-race winning streak includes a victory in the Grade 1 Royal & SunAlliance Chase at last year's Cheltenham Festival, as well as the Grade 1 Lexus Chase at Leopardstown on Dec 28 and the Grade 2 Aon Chase at Newbury on Feb. 9.

Ruby Walsh, who has ridden both horses in the past, has chosen Kauto Star for the $901,000 Gold Cup. Denman will be piloted by Sam Thomas, who has ridden him in three of his eight chase victories.

Exotic Dancer, second in last year's Gold Cup and third in the King George VI Chase, has upset possibilities.

Wind halts card

Wednesday's Cheltenham card was abandoned because of high winds as racecourse officials feared for the safety of the fans who would be entertained in makeshift tented villages. Four of Wednesday's seven races were scheduled to be run on Thursday's card, among them the Queen Mother Champion Chase. The other three will be run on Friday. Cheltenham will refund all of Wednesday's admission fees, which run to as much as $130 for a place in the members' enclosure.