Woodman trains around a dozen horses at his yard in Sussex, 'though only about four are working,' he admits, adding: 'we've got a few sick, lame and weary ones.'
At two o'clock yesterday afternoon, he was still awaiting his first winner of a jumps season which is already six months old. That was before King Credo took the Tote Gold Trophy, and raised his win prizemoney total from nought to pounds 33,800 in the space of a mere five minutes.
This is a race which, tradition says, is so competitive that nothing short of a meticulous, trouble-free build-up will suffice. Woodman might beg to differ: so far this season, King Credo has suffered from a virus, then colic, and finally an injured foot, and was only declared fit to run yesterday three days in advance.
Not that it showed. King Credo and Adrian Maguire were always towards the front rank in a race where very few managed to show with a chance. Two out, Native Mission was the only possible danger as Royal Derbi, the favourite, and Rodeo Star gave way.
Mark Dwyer, on Native Mission, was going just as well as Maguire, but was understandably reluctant to commit himself immediately.
Riding the same horse in last month's Ladbroke Hurdle, Dwyer was generally agreed to have lost by making his move too soon. Unfortunately, when Dwyer shook the reins yesterday, Native Mission didn't go at all, and King Credo had little trouble overcoming a mistake at the last to win by five lengths.
The sponsors of yesterday's race offer a pounds 50,000 bonus to the winner should he go on to success in the Champion Hurdle. Fortified by his win, Woodman was quick to state that King Credo will go straight to Cheltenham but, while the result was a romantic one on Valentine's weekend, the colder climate of the Festival can surely offer only disappointment.
Ladbrokes felt moved to cut King Credo's Champion Hurdle odds to 16-1 from 40-1, but Hills still offer the much more realistic price of 33-1.
By contrast, the winner of next month's Queen Mother Champion Chase was almost certainly on show in the Game Spirit Chase which opened the card, but whether that horse will prove to be Katabatic or Waterloo Boy few would dare to say.
The rivalry between these fine chasers is such that it is now hard to imagine a race involving one and not the other.
Most of their previous eight meetings had followed the same script - Waterloo Boy makes the running, Katabatic cruises past at the last - and punters yesterday were confident of a repeat, making Katabatic the well-backed 8-11 favourite.
It all went according to plan until the start of the final act, but when Simon McNeill gave Katabatic his cue, the response was uninspiring. Waterloo Boy managed to steal a length, and held Katabatic's renewed challenge to the line. The score is now 7-2 in Katabatic's favour, and the next instalment cannot come quickly enough.
One of the spectators for that race will be Young Hustler, who will contest the Sun Alliance Chase later the same day. Yesterday, he took the Arlington Series Final, his third valuable prize on consecutive Saturdays, to emphasise the effectiveness of Nigel Twiston-Davies's belief in Martin Pipe's techniques.
'He's a very tough little horse,' said Twiston-Davies, with a hint of understatement. 'He only lost a kilo in his race last week so we had to come again.'
One horse who will not be coming again is Norton's Coin, the shock 100-1 winner of the 1990 Gold Cup. Though his form since has rarely threatened to reach such heights, no one who was at Cheltenham that day could fail to harbour a little affection for a horse who reduced a capacity crowd to stunned silence.
Sirrell Griffiths, his trainer, had already said that yesterday's race would be Norton's Coin's last if no improvement was forthcoming. At the third-last fence, with the leaders already long gone, Norton'sCoin refused. Who said horses are dumb animals?
The Melton Mowbray trainer Kevin Morgan landed a 129-1 treble at Catterick yesterday. His winners were Irish Ditty (4-1), Nessfield (9-4) and Favoured Victor (7-1).
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