Racing: Giant leap for Mann and horse: Among the risks that trainers can run, the Taxis still looms larger than the danger of infection from the stables

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'THE Arc came a week early for us,' Charlie Mann said on Wednesday, 'so we're going for this one instead.' Given the identity of 'this one', the Lambourn trainer's sense of humour is likely to be a useful quality over the next few days.

His target is Sunday's Velka Pardubicka (Czech Grand National) at Pardubice in the Czech Republic. He will both saddle and ride Its A Snip in what is probably the most demanding steeplechase in the world, run over a cross- country circuit which includes ploughed fields, deep water-filled ditches, double hedges and the rightly notorious Taxis fence, a vast open ditch which has on occasions claimed the entire field.

It is hardly a weekend away from it all, but for Mann, Sunday's race will be the final realisation of an enduring and elusive ambition after several failed attempts to secure a ride in the Pardubicka in recent years. Success on Sunday would also be a belated retort to the Jockey Club doctor who refused to renew Mann's riding licence after a broken neck sustained in a fall several years ago, a decision which Mann still believes to have been unjustified.

'Peter Hobbs and Russ Bellamy had the same injury and they've come back, so it wasn't life-threatening,' he says. 'I don't think that the man who stopped me riding was in a position to know when my consultants told me I was fine.'

None the less, it is probably just as well that this year's Pardubicka is a little less of a life-insurance salesman's nightmare than those of previous seasons. During its long decades of isolation behind the iron curtain, the race was immune to changing attitudes elsewhere, but its organisers are now sensitive to accusations that the Pardubicka can veer towards premeditated carnage. The deep water jumps were once almost unannounced, but a small hurdle before each ditch will now help horses to see the obstacle and pick up. Remounting has also been banned, though since several runners have fallen, got up and won the race (one even prevailed after falling twice), it is possible that there will be no finishers when ground conditions are severe.

Riding in the race is Mann's great ambition, but this is not the sort of no-hoper's glory mission once common in the Grand National at Aintree. 'It's a race I've always felt wouldn't take a lot of winning,' he says. 'I've got a very nice horse and I'm confident he can do the business.' It has also been done before. Stephen's Society, ridden by the amateur Chris Collins, brought the Pardubicka back to Britain in 1973.

As Mann points out, 'our horses are a different class to theirs. Chris put up 12lb overweight, ran out at the fifth and gave them 40 lengths, and still won by 15. My horse could have given Stephen's Society about two and a half stone, so we're more than hopeful.'

The prize-money of pounds 40,000 is also an incentive, but will probably seem somewhat irrelevant as Mann finally gallops towards the Taxis on Sunday afternoon. 'On the horse I've got, it doesn't worry me at all,' he says.

You almost believe him.

(Photograph omitted)