John Hales makes toys for a living, but as far as at least one man is concerned this Christmas, the resemblance to Santa Claus ends there. Tony Dobbin, stable jockey to Gordon Richards, learned yesterday that despite his recovery from a recent injury, Hales has insisted that Richard Dunwoody will ride One Man, the favourite, in the King George VI Chase at Kempton Park on Boxing Day.
Richards had previously insisted that as long as Dobbin was fit, One Man was his ride, but in a brief statement yesterday, the trainer said: "Richard Dunwoody rides One Man. It is the owner's decision."
Dunwoody is riding as well as at any time in his outstanding career, and only four days ago rode Richards's Unguided Missile to success in the Betterware Cup at Ascot despite a mistake at the last fence which appeared to have cost him any chance. He is also a veteran of two King George victories on another grey, Desert Orchid.
"There were concerns on my part that Tony Dobbin would have returned to race-riding only a little over one week prior to the big race," Hales said. "I also took into consideration that it would be the first time in the King George for both horse and rider.
"With such a talented young horse, it may be wiser on this occasion to call on the experience and ability of Richard Dunwoody who has ridden in this race on many occasions. In normal circumstances we are very happy to have Tony Dobbin as our jockey, and look forward to him riding One Man in his next race."
Dobbin made no comment after yesterday's news, although there are few greater snubs for a stable-jockey than to lose the ride on the yard's best horse in one of the season's most important races. "He's obviously upset and disappointed," Richard Hale, Dobbin's agent, said. "As far as he is concerned he is fit, but the owner doesn't see it that way. But he has been told that whatever happens in the King George, he will still ride One Man in the Gold Cup."
Dunwoody is undoubtedly one of the finest riders ever to put a horse at an obstacle, but some punters will inevitably feel that Dobbin has been poorly treated. The reaction of the Kempton crowd if One Man prevails may be instructive.
One Man was one of 12 horses left in the King George at yesterday's declaration stage. All the leading bookmakers cut his odds after yesterday news, and he is now a 2-1 chance with William Hill to carry on at Kempton where he left off in Haydock's Tommy Whittle Chase earlier this month, when a series of spectacular leaps took him well clear of a useful field.
In Dobbin's absence, he was partnered at Haydock by Mark Dwyer, but Dobbin was aboard both for his successful seasonal debut, and the most important victory of his career to date, in the 1994 Hennessy Gold Cup at Newbury.
Bradbury Star, runner-up in the King George two years ago, was the most notable absentee after yesterday's declarations, and the dozen remaining names appear to represent one of the best fields for the Boxing Day showpiece for several years. Barton Bank, a faller at the last with the race at his mercy 12 months ago, is 3-1 second favourite with Hills, who then bet: 4-1 Merry Gale, 7-1 Dublin Flyer, 14-1 Algan, last year's winner, and Val D'Alene, 16-1 Coulton, 20-1 Book Of Music, 25-1 Brief Gale, Monsieur Le Cure, Young Hustler, 33-1 Egypt Mill Prince.Reuse content