The most interesting racing event of debate this week has not been the Hennessy Gold Cup. The contest that has attracted the most comment has been the race within a race: the jockeys' scrabble, won by Mark Dwyer, to claim the mount on this afternoon's short-priced favourite, One Man.
Such is the grey's perceived hegemony that the principal difficulty was not considered getting him round Newbury, but rather getting the seat on his back in the first place.
Two races provide the explanation for this atmosphere. Firstly, One Man was an outrageously easy winner of this customarily competitive race 12 months, and he was no less impressive when skipping away from his field at Ayr on his seasonal reappearance. The two races in between would provide rather less fragrance for One Man supporters, however. Last Christmas, he severed the connection with Tony Dobbin at Wetherby and then, at Kempton, hit the ground as hard as a parachutist suffering a malfunction.
Gordon Richards, the seven-year-old's trainer, has reported that his charge has subsequently jumped 60 fences at home without a semblance of error. That provides comforting rather than compelling evidence (rather like walking along a plank in the back garden in preparation for crossing a chasm on the same piece of wood).
One Man, it must be said, has been beaten only once in nine completed chases, and if he wins here he will immediately step aboard the upward escalator to greatness, as Arkle is the only other horse to capture consecutive Hennessys.
But the facts that his jumping will be thoroughly examined and that he is 24lb higher in the handicap than 12 months ago mean he is poor value at 6-4.
The grey does at least match part of the winner's photofit for the race, which, for the last 10 years, has gone to an improving, relatively young horse. In that decade, the oldest winner has been nine, while no favourite has been victorious. This profile rules out the other previous winners, Chatam and Cogent, but highlights the prospects of one of Charlie Brooks's two runners, Couldnt Be Better.
The eight-year-old has had his problems - he formerly had the breathing of an old miner and once broke a blood vessel - but all that looked distant history when he scampered in at Haydock on his seasonal reappearance. According to his trainer, the present condition of COULDNT BE BETTER (nap 2.25) is mirrored in his name.
It should, though, be a grey's day at Newcastle, where Britain's other well-known racehorse of that hue, Morceli (next best 2.40), competes in the Fighting Fifth Hurdle. Howard Johnson's gelding, who took a heavy tumble over fences at Ascot last Saturday, is sympathetically handicapped over the smaller obstacles and should be too robust for Absalom's Lady.
Richard Dunwoody misses the competition in Britain as he travels to Ireland to partner Merry Gale in a particularly interesting Punchestown Chase. Over a trip of two and a half miles, Jim Dreaper's gelding has prospects of reversing form with his recent conqueror, Klairon Davis, but there is another consideration in Buck Rogers, who launches into the fray with a defeat of another Irish hero, Strong Platinum, under his belt.
In the early hours of tomorrow, Pure Grain participates in the Japan Cup, which, in one sense, is the oriental version of the Breeders' Cup. The British always go there, but they seldom win. The last victory from these shores was in 1986 with Clive Brittain's Jupiter Island, and for those who like easy connections, Pure Grain is also trained in Newmarket, by Michael Stoute.
The filly's price of 10-1 accurately reflects her chance as she goes into battle with the other European runners, Hernando, Carling and Lando. The increasingly powerful home team is expected to prevail, however, with either Hishi Amazon or Narita Brian, the 1994 Japanese Triple Crown winner.
1985 86 87 88 89 90 91 92 93 94 Fate of the favourites: F P 4 4 2 4 P/P 2 3 7
Winner's place in betting: 3 2 2 0 2J 2 0 0 0 2
Starting-prices: 11-2 6-1 6-1 10-1 5-1 5-1 10-1 40-1 10-1 4-1
Ages: 9 9 9 9 6 7 7 7 9 6
Weights: 10 0 10 5 10 8 10 0 10 2 11 0 10 6 10 0 10 1 10 0
Profit or loss to pounds 1 stake: Favourites -pounds 10.00. Second Favourites +pounds 15.00
Percentage of winners placed 1st, 2nd or 3rd in last race: 80%
Shortest-priced winner: One Man 4-1 (1994)
Longest-priced winner: Sibton Abbey 40-1 (1992)
Top trainer: M Pipe Strands Of Gold (1988), Chatam (1991)
Top jockey: P Scudamore Strands Of Gold (1988), Chatam (1991)
Key: F = faller; P = pulled-up; P/P = joint-favourites pulled-up; J = joint-favourite
NAP: Couldnt Be Better
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