Racing / Cheltenham Festival: King mixes with the multitude: Greg Wood on the contender who could mean business for a four-horse Sussex stable

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WHATEVER else King Credo does in the Champion Hurdle this afternoon, he will certainly widen his social circle.

You have to hope that his herd instinct will take over, for it would be no time to suffer an attack of shyness. A yard in Sussex with an active muster of just four horses - the field for today's championship will be almost five times bigger - is depending on King Credo. He is their sole breadwinner.

Jump racing has dozens of stables like Steve Woodman's, where the only thing shorter than the roll call is the bank manager's patience, but very few trainers capable of preparing a horse to win the Tote Gold Trophy. Form students discounted King Credo before last month's race at Newbury, reasoning that he could not possibly be fit after a near two-month absence and interrupted preparation, but Woodman, who had added regular sessions on a water treadmill to the traditional regime, knew better. King Credo won easily, and landed a gamble for good measure.

Woodman might have imagined that the tide was turning, but to date this glowing advertisement for his skills has generated little extra business. 'The phone rang a few times but nothing concrete materialised and no horses arrived,' he says. 'These are tough times and the money isn't about.'

Success today would surely increase the response rate, and offer further proof of Woodman's shrewd judgement of horseflesh. Many have assumed that his decision to run in the Champion was prompted solely by the pounds 50,000 bonus offered by the Tote to a horse completing the Newbury- Cheltenham double, but Woodman has in fact reckoned King Credo to be a contender for some time.

'Since he was a two-year-old,' in fact (he is now eight). 'We knew he was something special from the word go. He's got a better chance than most, and he's coming right at the right time.'

He may be 25-1, but this is the horse for racing's Barbara Cartland tendency, punters who cannot resist a touch of romance. King Credo is a son of Credo's Daughter, who won 12 times and made the frame in the Hennessy and Mackeson Gold Cups when trained by Woodman's late father, Syd. She was known for her enthusiasm and tenacity, qualities which both her son, who has suffered from colic, a virus and a bruised foot this season, and his short-handed trainer display in abundance.

King Credo was bred by Credo's Daughter's part- owner James Bolam, the actor, who is a long-standing patron of Woodman's yard. Before she was put down two years ago at the age of 25, Credo's Daughter produced several foals, but until King Credo came along most had been notable only for their ill fortune. Woodman may now be able to find a buyer for the last of the line, a five-year-old by Sunyboy, who 'is more of a chasing type, but working bloody well, coming on every time'. There is one prerequisite for any potential owner, however - 'very deep pockets'.

On such ready optimism, so often misplaced, is National Hunt racing founded. As was a bet struck by the late Ronald Lacey, King Credo's original owner. 'I think Ron, who died last year, backed him about three years ago to win a Champion Hurdle one day,' Woodman says, 'but unfortunately I don't know what happened to his voucher.'

If it is ever to be cashed in, Woodman deserves to be the one pushing it over the counter. 'We can't give up,' he says, 'we've been doing it all our lives. We can't give up. We're not that desperate.'

(Photograph omitted)