Racing: Heros keeps One Man's memory alive for Hales

John Hales, owner of Heros Collonges, January's winner of the Royal & SunAlliance Novice Chaser of the Month award, given in association with 'The Independent', talks to Richard Edmondson
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The Independent Online

It is proof of the speed of time to learn that One Man, one of the few horses who could have given time itself a few pounds and a 10-length beating, has been dead almost four years now. Memories of the lightning-quick chaser still abound in National Hunt racing, not least in the mind of his owner, John Hales. Even now he thinks about the grey horse every day.

Hales is the recipient of January's Royal & SunAlliance Novice Chaser Of The Month award, given in association with The Independent, following the exploits of the latest celebrity to run in his yellow colours with a red star, Heros Collonges.

Great things are predicted for the seven-year-old, but the slight leg injury he sustained this week means he will miss tomorrow's Reynoldstown Chase at Ascot and possibly the Royal & SunAlliance Novices' Chase at the Cheltenham Festival. But Hales understands that he cannot be another One Man. There will never be a vacancy for that position.

One Man won 20 races spread over six seasons and more than £450,000 in prizemoney. Along the glittering path were two King George VI Chases and an emotional Queen Mother Champion Chase, which he won by four lengths in 1998. The Cheltenham stands were rocking that March day.

We did not know then that was to be the last race the grey bullet was to complete. Just 16 days later he fell at the ninth fence at Aintree after establishing a three-length lead in the Melling Chase. It was not the most gruesome of tumbles, but when Hales was led weeping through the press area a horrible truth came in with him. One Man had suffered an irreparable fracture of a tibia.

"We still think about him, but at last the tears have stopped," Hales said this week. "That was the most tragic thing that has ever happened to my family. We'll never forget him. We always think about him. You see a good horse and you think 'One Man would have murdered him.' We've kept it secret until now, but he's buried near my home [near Shifnal in Shropshire] in a lovely place. Flowers are there all the time. And the house is a memorial to him. It's a One Man museum.

"He was a magnificent horse. Okay, the Gold Cup was a hill too far and you could look back and wonder how many Queen Mother Champion Chases he left behind. But he won a lot of three-mile chases, including the Hennessy.

"They said it was a fast King George at Christmas, but One Man beat that time by 12 seconds [on Boxing Day 1996]. And the Queen Mother Champion Chase day was the crowning glory. He didn't just win it, he pulverised them. He ran them ragged. On good ground he was probably the fastest three-mile chaser we've ever seen. The quickest of them all. On a flat track nobody could touch him."

It took a while for the light to come back into Hales' sporting life, but he is now, once again, an enthusiastic visitor to our racecourses. Racing enthusiasts who have enriched the man behind Golden Bear Products Ltd by purchasing either Tinky Winky, Dipsy, Laa-Laa or Po for their children, can take comfort in the recycling of his money to buy top-class jumping stock.

Hales currently has nine horses in training and those that run in his silks include the Champion Hurdle aspirant Azertyuiop, the currently sidelined Mister Banjo, who set a record price for a jumps horse when purchased for 240,000 guineas at the 2000 Doncaster Spring Sales, and Heros Collonges. Hales attempted last year to buy Japhet, who relinquished his unbeaten record at Newbury on Saturday, from the French trainer, Guillaume Macaire. He was not for sale, but a deal was struck for an immense stablemate by the name of Heros Collonges. On his first start in this country, in Kempton's Sunbury Novices' Chase, the gelding beat Duchamp by 27 lengths to complete a fourth successive victory. He is now favourite for his Cheltenham engagement. "His race before Kempton was, if anything, even more spectacular," Hales says. "He beat a field of 23 at Auteuil. That convinced me he could be a bit special. He's an exciting prospect." If Heros Collonges does run at the Festival the man who manufactures toys will be on the lookout for another horse to construct a fairytale. "After One Man I immediately said that I would never go racing again," John Hales says. "It took a year to get over it, but time is a great healer. I still love this sport."