Dublin can dash grey expectation

Greg Wood tips a fearless jumper to topple the King George favourite
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The Independent Online
A dashing grey favourite in the King George VI Chase -after the Desert Orchid years, it seems as much a part of Christmas as dyspepsia and hangovers, and although One Man may still have a great deal to prove, as he gallops to post for his first King George this afternoon, the parallels with his famous predecessor go further than colour and style. At seven, he is the same age as Desert Orchid when he first won the race in 1986, and with such youth and talent on his side, One Man could yet become a fixture to match.

First, of course, he needs to win today, and inspection of the field lined up against him is conclusive proof that celebrities need luck as well as talent. Desert Orchid's good fortune was to be the outstanding chaser of a generally disappointing era, and it must be doubtful whether even one of his four Boxing Day victories was achieved against such a strong band of rivals. Barton Bank, Merry Gale, Dublin Flyer and last year's (albeit fortunate) winner, Algan, are serious dangers, while success for Val D'Alene, Coulton or Brief Gale would hardly qualify as a major surprise.

Which begs the question, just how good is One Man? The answer is a little more vague than you might expect of a 2-1 favourite in one of the year's most prestigious races. His most recent success, in the Tommy Whittle Chase at Haydock, was undeniably impressive, but remarkably this was his first outing outside handicap company since his novice days, and even then he was getting weight from the runner-up, Monsieur Le Cure.

In his previous race, at Ayr, One Man beat Jodami, the 1993 Gold Cup winner, by seven lengths, but received 16lb, making Jodami, who may well be a declining force, the better horse at the weights. His form in the second half of last season was hardly encouraging, either, with falls in two big races (including the Racing Post Chase over today's course and distance) following his Hennessy victory, achieved under bottom weight of 10 stone.

This is not to deny that One Man is an improved performer this season, nor that his chance this afternoon is significant. On the balance of his form, however, he does not deserve to be a 2-1 chance. The value, therefore, must lie elsewhere, and more specifically with one of his three main rivals at the top of the market.

Barton Bank is hard to support with confidence after his last-fence disaster 12 months ago, which leaves Merry Gale and Dublin Flyer. Either should provide a good run for your money, but since he is at least twice the price of the other leading contenders, DUBLIN FLYER (nap 2.20), a 10-1 chance with William Hill, demands support.

His courageous performance when winning the Mackeson Gold Cup under 11st 8lb was perhaps the most impressive of the season so far, and he will concede to nothing in terms of bravery at least. Dublin Flyer's fast and impeccable jumping might also coax mistakes from several opponents and his odds seriously underestimate his chance.

Novices provide the major points of interest on the undercard, with the opening hurdle in particular pitting some useful performers against high- class recruits from the Flat. River North, a Group One winner on the level, is already a 20-1 chance for the Champion Hurdle in March, but for once it is difficult to mock the bookmakers' caution. Royal Gait and Alderbrook have both graduated from the Flat to beat the best over timber in recent seasons, and the former made his hurdling debut in today's race.

He did not win, however -he finished second to Travado -and River North could be forgiven for needing time to adjust to a new discipline. The splendidly-named 'Iggins (12.45) could make it a difficult introduction.

An exceptional field for the Feltham Novices' Chase includes Major Summit, Mr Mulligan and Master Orchestra, whose brother is the King George absentee and Gold Cup hope Book Of Music , but Hill Of Tullow (1.15) looks best of all. Cheryl's Lad (1.45) will be no sort of price but is hard to oppose in the handicap hurdle, while Simple Arithmetic (next best 2.50) stands out in the Wayward Lad Novices' Chase.

The feature event in the north is the Rowland Meyrick Handicap Chase at Wetherby, with Jodami and Young Hustler among the entries. At the weights, though, Lo Stregone (2.20) has every chance, as does his stablemate Ask Tom (2.50) in the novice chase.