One Man can mow down the field

Sue Montgomery assesses the prospects for the Hennessy Gold Cup
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ONE MAN, one of steeplechasing's rising stars, will join the most select company of them all if he can win a second successive Hennessy Cognac Gold Cup at Newbury next Saturday. Only one horse in the race's 38-year history has won two in a row, the peerless Arkle himself.

Should One Man triumph - and he is the overwhelming favourite - there will be no utterances of the heretical phrase "as good as" in the same breath as the great Irish chaser's name. Arkle won his two Hennessys, the second one exactly 30 years ago, by an aggregate 25 lengths under an unprecedented and since unmatched 12st 7lb each time. One Man had bottomweight of 10st when he scored last year; this time he has been set to carry 10st 11lb.

But a victory would establish the seven-year-old in the top rank of staying chasers and give a fillip to competition in the division for the rest of the season. The Hennessy, a three and a quarter mile handicap, has provided a signpost to the season's biggest events since its inception in 1957. In the last dozen years three subsequent winners of the Grand National and two of the Gold Cup have been in the frame.

However, in One Man's case, it is a matter of second time around. After last year's victory, which fulfilled the promise of his novice days, the handsome grey was hailed in some quarters as the "new Dessie". But he fell in his next two races, the latter a heavy tumble at Kempton in February, bringing his campaign to a premature end.

His trainer, Gordon Richards, had to go back to the drawing-board with One Man's jumping. And judging by the gelding's performance at Ayr eight days ago, when he fenced boldly to beat the 1993 Gold Cup winner Jodami on his seasonal debut, his confidence is back.

But Richards, based at Penrith, is not counting any chickens. "I was very pleased with his performance at Ayr, and he will be sharper for the run," he said. "But we were in this position last year, started to think about the Gold Cup after the Hennessy, and look what happened."

The Irish-bred One Man has the princely background to go with his claims as the pretender to Master Oats' Cheltenham crown. He is from the same lineage as the Champion Hurdle-winning brothers Morley Street and Granville Again, and he cost his owner John Hales 68,000gns as a five-year-old before he had jumped a fence in public.

Saturday will be his moment of truth against his toughest opposition to date. On Ayr running, Jodami will be 4lb better off for seven lengths. The 1991 Hennessy winner Chatam - fifth in last year's race - will be a huge 34lb better off in this year's renewal for 16 lengths. Other worthy rivals will include Couldnt Be Better, Earth Summit and Rough Quest. But Richards rates One Man up with the best he has handled in his 31 years as a trainer. "In this game you take nothing for granted," he said. "But as far as Cheltenham next March is concerned, he could be the one."