RACING: Gold aim guides Richards

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The Independent Online
It could be a trifle drastic, but Gordon Richards's best prospect of continuing his present run might be to walk into the smoky local of a Hell's Angels chapter and ask to borrow a perfume atomiser.

Since two murderous blows snapped the Greystoke trainer's ribs in an attack two weeks ago he has collected top chasing prizes on consecutive weekends, first with One Man at Haydock nine days ago and then Unguided Missile's victory in Ascot's Betterware Chase on Saturday.

Richards was not in Berkshire as his injuries preclude him from travelling long distances. He sustained them at his Cumbrian yard when an inmate being removed from the horse- walker first kicked the trainer to the floor and then followed up as he tried to get to his feet. Real bikers' tactics.

Unguided Missile was reported fit and fighting yesterday morning after his exertions, though the same could not be said of Richards. "I'm still a bit sore but I'm killing the pain with a couple of tablets now and then," he stated.

It was an irony of the weekend that only four of the nine runners should finish the Betterware and that the one considered the most suspect of the lot should actually win it. "He always hits one," Richards said. "But you don't usually win when you hit three."

Unguided Missile, who was skilfully handled by Richard Dunwoody, can be excused a little, as he was put off by the many fallers around him. Horses are distracted by accidents to their brethren, in much the same way as motorists slow down in the outside lane when they spot sirens and twisted metal in an opposite carriageway.

Nevertheless, it will be the Janet and John book of leaping that is pulled from the shelf in coming weeks. "We'll work on his jumping and treat him like a young novice again," Richards said.

Then will come the decision about the seven-year-old's next race. "I think Wetherby [the Rowland Meyrick Handicap Chase] on Boxing Day will come too soon for him, which is a shame as he jumped well there last time except for the ditch," the trainer said. "Well, at least that was what I was told by my boy [Brian Harding, the 3lb claimer], because it was a very misty day. I suppose I'll have to believe him.

"So it might be later than that. He's jumped round big courses, he's jumped round Haydock, so we may go back there in the New Year."

Richards's recent results have provided high testament to his enduring success. The Somerset-born man (Phil Tuck, the former jockey, does a memorable impression of the West Country voice and delivery), who has trained in One Man And His Dog land for close to 30 years, is sailing high in the championship with a strike-rate approaching 40 per cent. At the age of 65, he has won about 1,500 races, recorded three centuries and sent out 50 or more winners in a season on 17 occasions. Richards is small enough to do limbo without bending appreciably but few people mess with him. Especially not stable jockeys.

In an earlier life, he was a professional rider for 16 years until a broken back finished his career. Richards still rides out, however, and habitually takes the morning exercise on One Man, the stable standard- bearer, presumably as he thinks himself the best man for the job.

When Richards first started riding for a living there was another small chap around, the one with the stubby moustache bent on world domination. The trainer sets his sights a little lower, but then he has more chance of achieving his aims. He would like to win the Gold Cup, which, along with the Champion Chase, is the only big race over fences to elude him.

The trainer has the favourite for the next running of that event in One Man, who furthers his education in the King George VI Chase at Kempton a week tomorrow. Richards has promised to be there even if he has to be strapped on to a roof-rack, though it appears that one of his colleagues, Kim Bailey, may not be in the trainers' car park at Sunbury to help cut him down.

Bailey's Book Of Music, who is well fancied for both the King George and the Gold Cup despite having run just once previously over fences, will not appear on Boxing Day unless the heavens open. "He won't run unless there is some rain," the Upper Lambourn trainer said yesterday. "I bet it is bloody close to good to firm at the moment and there is no rain forecast."

Another possible absentee is Dunwoody himself, who will decide tomorrow, after Dermot Weld and Edward O'Grady have announced their plans, whether he will compete at Kempton or on the opening day of Leopardstown's Christmas Festival.