Man takes the Cheltenham challenge

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Racing

GREG WOOD

One Man may be the 11-8 favourite for the Gold Cup in March after his commanding success in the King George, but for serious backers there is still a disturbing hole in his form which makes support at such short odds hard to justify. The grey has appeared at Cheltenham only twice, and on both occasions he has been deeply disappointing. In two days' time, however, he will get the chance to make it third-time lucky.

Gordon Richards, One Man's trainer, yesterday confirmed that his chaser will line up for Saturday's Piller Properties Investment Chase at the headquarters of National Hunt. He reported that One Man worked extremely well on Tuesday, and confirmed his place in the weekend's big race when he exercised "satisfactorily" yesterday morning. "I have not told Mr Hales [One Man's owner] yet, but I am going to run him on Saturday," Richards said.

The Gold Cup favourite is expected to face just four rivals, since the predicted good ground will rule out Monsieur Le Cure, and Aidan O'Brien will run Life Of The Lord at Leopardstown a week later. It should still be a race of real quality, however, as Flashing Steel, Barton Bank, Young Hustler and Willsford attempt to puncture the euphoria which now surrounds One Man's every appearance.

The grey's previous visits to Prestbury Park were for a novice hurdle in 1992, and then the Sun Alliance Chase at the Festival, for which he started favourite, in 1994. He was soundly beaten in both races. Richards, though, sees no reason why One Man should not produce his best form on Saturday. "The course will not be a problem," he said. "I would not have entered him for the Gold Cup if I didn't think he could go round it."

When asked to nominate the most serious danger to One Man on Saturday, Richards picked Flashing Steel, who is dependable but surely not in the same class as the King George winner. This is a telling reflection on the decline of Barton Bank, who won the 1993 King George and was among the favourites for last year's Gold Cup, but now appears unable to recapture his best form.

Like One Man, Barton Bank has not found Cheltenham welcoming, even when he was performing well. His task on Saturday will not be aided by his introduction to a new jockey, following Adrian Maguire's injury at Leicester two days ago.

David Nicholson, Barton Bank's trainer, had not decided yesterday who would replace Maguire but was cheered by news that his jockey may return in three weeks rather than six weeks as was first feared.

Maguire's agent, Dave Roberts, said: "Adrian has seen a specialist and the injuries are not as serious as first thought. It was thought he had cruciate-ligament damage, but it is not those ligaments that are injured. He should be out for no more than three weeks and could be back for the Tote Gold Trophy."

The build-up to the season's main events continued yesterday with the release of entries both for the Singer & Friedlander National Trial at Uttoxeter on 10 February, and the Grand National itself on 30 March. Miinnehoma, the 1994 National winner, heads the list for Uttoxeter's race, with Lord Relic, owned by Stan Clarke, the track's chairman, another interesting candidate. Top class at his best, Lord Relic has not raced since sustaining an injury in the 1994 Welsh National.

Lord Relic is also one of 82 entries for Aintree, along with Carvill's Hill, another convalescent in Martin Pipe's yard, and Royal Athlete, last year's winner, who has not seen a racecourse since.

"He is fine," Mark Pitman, assistant to Royal Athlete's trainer, Jenny, said yesterday. "We are building his whole year around Aintree. He is coming along steadily and he will have one or two runs before Liverpool. We are taking care and won't rush him."

Of the nine horses who followed Royal Athlete home last April, only two, Dubacilla and Romany King, both now retired, are not among this year's initial entry. Bookmakers, no doubt desperate to boost turnover in another double-rollover week for the Lottery, will offer you 20-1 the field, but since even the official handicapper is not yet sure of the final weights, this is a very rare occasion when Camelot offers better value than the local betting shop.

Grand National (Aintree, 30 March).

William Hill: 20-1 Flashing Steel, Master Oats, Monsieur Le Cure, Royal Mountbrowne, Superior Finish, Young Hustler, 25-1 Deep Bramble, Earth Summit, Lusty Light, McGregor The Third, Rough Quest, Royal Athlete, Smith's Band, Val D'Alene, 33-1 others.

Ladbrokes: 16-1 Dublin Flyer, Jodami, Young Hustler, 20-1 Master Oats, Superior Finish, Smith's Band, 25-1 Lusty Light, Deep Bramble, Lo Stregone, Earth Summit, Rough Quest, 33-1 others.

Tote: 14-1 Young Hustler, 16-1 Dublin Flyer, Superior Finish, 20-1 Deep Bramble, Jodami, Lo Stregone, Master Oats, Monsieur Le Cure, 25-1 others.

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