Racing: Does Man stay or will he go?

COMMENTARY

There was a surreal moment at Cheltenham on Saturday when a horse won a race and then had his price lengthened for a future event. If One Man achieves nothing further in his career he can at least be remembered for this watershed reaction among bookmakers.

They may pretend otherwise - wittering on sagely about the performance and promise of horses - but our expert friends the layers are guided by just two criteria, weight of money and weight of words from connections. Thus the big three were steered by Gordon Richards's comments after One Man's victory in the Pillar Chase at Prestbury Park.

Some rather strange noises came out of Gordon's mouth on Saturday. Before racing he seemed to suggest only intergalactic conflict would stop his grey contesting, and winning, the Gold Cup. After picking up his bottle of champagne, the preferred option was then revised to the Queen Mother Champion Chase followed by the Martell Chase at Aintree. After a night's sleep the ball was still bouncing around the trainer's skull yesterday. "The Gold is really the one that I want," he said. "It's a very frustrating situation at the moment because I've won most of the others but I've never had that Cup. I've got others who will run in it but the grey is the class among them at home.''

You would have to feel sorry for anyone who went racing for the first time on Saturday, because it was an experience that would be hard to replicate. The sky was clear and blue, its edges lighter where it hit the land, the air invigorating, the competition compelling in the sport's most attractive amphitheatre. If you did not enjoy this then racing is probably not your game.

It may have been because Jimmy Harris, the trainer of multiple handicap winner Vindaloo, was present that Cheltenham's parade ring scoreboard chose to refer to the Pillar Chase favourite as One Nan. When our hero appeared he wore boots in front and a lively appearance, his red and yellow colours matched both by a rug bearing the teddy bear and rosette insignia of owner John Hales's toy firm, and the apparel of his stable lass.

This neatness was transferred to the battle scene, where One Man did not once miss a target area the size of a handkerchief on the landing side during his round. The plan was to keep One Man in check, to forfeit his ground-saving extravagance at fences in an effort to conserve energy.

There is a potentially destructive characteristic in One Man. At Greystoke, you could put a nursery class of babies in his box and go out for lunch untroubled, but once the horse is introduced to the gallops he becomes a monster. On the track, when asked to attack his fences, the blood begins to bubble and he tests the sockets of his rider with his enthusiasm. This eagerness militates against staying the Gold Cup distance.

If he is to win the blue riband - and One Man is now a top-priced 8-1 with Coral - he needs freakish circumstances in his favour. The ground must be on the firm side and the race will have to be run sluggishly to help him eke out his stamina. At no point on Saturday was he put under any pressure until the last few strides, and he was probably acting the goat then anyway. It was hard to accept his faltering as evidence of non- staying. His body was dry as parchment on return and he was silent among the other wheezing figures in the enclosure.

While his connections muse over Festival arrangements, One Man will be asked to contribute towards his keep. The Comet Chase at Ascot on 5 February or Wincanton's Jim Ford Chase 15 days later are the alternatives.

Before then, Richards will supervise another of his Gold Cup aspirants when The Grey Monk runs in the Irish equivalent, the Hennessy Gold Cup, at Leopardstown on Sunday. Rivals will include Danoli as well as Imperial Call, who won the contest 12 months ago. Imperial Call was reported in fine fettle by his trainer, Fergie Sutherland, yesterday. "I'm chuffed with him and he is pinging." Just like the thought processes in Gordon Richards's head.

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