One Man cast in the hero's role

CHELTENHAM FESTIVAL: A favourite grey on the brink of wider fame is ready to shatter the statistics stacked against him
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The Independent Online
RICHARD EDMONDSON

Racing Correspondent

Someone tried to steal the Gold Cup from a Cheltenham jewellers in a ram-raid a fortnight ago. This week the prevailing feeling has been that One Man will have to be hit by a truck to stop the trophy going back to Cumbria.

The grey's dominance of steeplechasing is such that bookmakers have been betting not only on whether he wins this afternoon's Blue Riband but also by how far.

Those who would like to see him victorious include people with ante-post vouchers in their pockets and others with romance in their hearts. One Man holds the promise of greatness, a horse who is one final push away from joining the sport's most eminent names.

His attributes are manifold. For a winter horse, One Man possesses unusual speed and would be a considerable force at distances much shorter than the three miles two furlongs he will negotiate today; fences seem to provide little hindrance to his impetus - when One Man jumps he bounces over. And although he does not need the assistance, the good ground that suits him best has arrived in the Cotswolds

His qualities are hardly compromised by the fact that he is trained by Gordon Richards. The man from Greystoke is closing in on 2,000 winners during his 30 plus years with a licence and, at 66, he has captured just about every major prize that steeplechasing can offer. The Gold Cup, however, remains a conspicuous omission and it is not a race of great good fortune for Richards. This is the seventh Blue Riband contestant he has saddled and many that have gone before have failed when well fancied.

There is other evidence for the doomsters, because as well as the Cheltenham hill, One Man will also have to clamber over a mountain of statistics. Short-priced favourites have a deplorable record at the Festival, as do horses who come to Prestbury Park with the King George VI Chase already under their belts.

Some vocalise, rather unconvincingly, that One Man will not quite last out today's trip, but there is possibly more substance to the belief that Cheltenham is not his ideal arena. He has won 10 of his last 11 completed starts and the only blemish was his previous appearance here in the Sun Alliance Novices' Chase of two seasons ago.

Richards, though, brushes away suggestions that the horse has an aversion to the course with the swiftness and nonchalance of a smoker removing a speck of ash from his cuff. "I promise you that if I thought Cheltenham was against him I wouldn't take him there," he says. "I could never disappoint or hurt the horse."

One Man, of course, has more than the course to beat. There is the small matter of 10 others who will be getting in his way. Most prominent of these, in the betting at least, is Imperial Call, who is notable both for his recent form and because his trainer, Fergie Sutherland, left a leg behind in Asia when he stepped on a landmine in the Korean War yet continued to ride to hounds.

The gelding caused a shock when he repelled last year's Gold Cup winner, Master Oats, at Leopardstown last month, but the ground that day, as it always has been when Imperial Call has won, had plenty of juice in it.

There are whispers too for Dublin Flyer, though not from the gelding's arch pessimist of a trainer, Tim Forster, who has spent all week wondering when a Chinese satellite was going to land on his head.

Dublin Flyer will probably be in front in the contest for longer than any other horse, but whether his stamina is sufficient for him to hold the position to the end is open to question.

Barton Bank can be discounted as he always meets one obstacle as if someone has been shining a torch in his eyes, while the handicappers Couldnt Be Better and Rough Quest suffer from a joint problem. Neither are good enough.

For the value-seekers the obvious choice is Young Hustler, a Festival winner who will relish the ground. But for those who have been searching for the next great horse the quest should be at an end. One Man can do it for Gordon Richards, he can do it for racing as a whole.

GOLD CUP -10-YEAR-TALE

1986 87 88 89 90 91 92 93 94 95

Fate of the favourites: 1 7 P 1 3 7 5 4 2 1

Winner's place in betting: 1 2 0 1 0 0 0 2jt 3 1

Starting-prices: 15-8 13-2 10-1 5-2 100-1 16-1 25-1 8-1 7-1 10-3

Ages: 8 9 10 10 9 8 10 8 9 9

Profit or loss to pounds 1 stake: Favourites +pounds 0.70. Second Favourites +pounds 2.00

Percentage of winners placed 1st, 2nd or 3rd in last race: 90%

Shortest-priced winner: Desert Orchid 5-2 (1989)

Longest-priced winner: Norton's Coin 100-1 (1990)

Top trainer: No trainer has won this race more than once in past 10 years

Top jockey: No jockey has won this race more than once in past 10 years

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