Sam Thomas hailed “phenomenal” performer Denman following the 2008 Cheltenham Gold Cup winner’s death on Tuesday.
Thomas enjoyed the biggest moment of his career when partnering Denman to a seven-length success over fellow Paul Nicholls-trained runner Kauto Star in the Festival feature 10 years ago.
The jockey teamed up with Denman in eight of his 24 races, also claiming the 2007 Hennessy Gold Cup at Newbury and finishing second in the 2011 Gold Cup, on what transpired to be his penultimate start.
“It’s a very sad day, it’s the end of an era really,” Thomas told Press Association Sport.
“He was just a phenomenal horse. There were so many good horses at Paul’s during that time and I suppose when you look back, you realise how lucky we were.
“Denman was just so tough to keep coming back. There wasn’t just the Gold Cup win, he won two Hennessys as well and finished second in three Gold Cups – he was the best horse I’ve ridden and probably the best I will ever sit on.”
Denman’s Gold Cup face-off with Kauto Star in 2008 captured the public imagination.
But after his Gold Cup demolition job, he suffered a heart issue that saw him have just one start before defending his title the following year.
Kauto Star came out on top that day but the pair went toe-to-toe again in 2010, when Denman claimed second behind Imperial Commander and Kauto Star fell four fences from home.
The duo had one last clash in 2011 as Denman took second behind Long Run, one place ahead of his stablemate in third.
Thomas believes their enduring rivalry did wonders for the wider profile of racing.
He said: “What those two horses did for National Hunt racing was amazing.
“What racing needs is for horses like that to keep coming back, year after year.
“He kept his following by doing just that – he was very, very tough.
“My thoughts are with the Barbers and Paul and everyone in Ditcheat. He was like a family pet.
“He was a racehorse, but at the end of the day, he was their horse.”