Racing: Mann of substance

Sue Montgomery talks to the jockey who defied the odds in the Czech Republic
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YESTERDAY at Kempton, Charlie Mann was heartily glad to have his feet firmly on the ground as he legged Richard Dunwoody into General Rusty's saddle before winning the Charisma Gold Cup, the jump season's first feature race. Yet only a week before, the gelding's trainer had, as a jockey, achieved one of the world's great riding feats.

Six years after breaking his neck in a fall at Warwick and being banned from further competition on medical grounds, Mann and his own horse Its A Snip conquered the four and a half miles and 31 fearsome fences of the legendary Velka Pardubika steeplechase in the Czech Republic. The last British combination to score had been Chris Collins and Stephen's Society 22 years previously.

The Velka Pardubika is akamikaze affair run over a twisting course and a variety of terrains and obstacles. The Taxis fence, a monster hedge with a yawning chasm on the landing side, is bigger in every dimension than Aintree's worst, the Chair.

The bold Mann's venture had all the hallmarks of Corinthian endeavour (he hoped his Swedish girlfriend would be impressed with his daring), plus a touch of cussedness. He was not pleased when racing's bosses withdrew his licence, and determined to prove them wrong. Sunday's win was his second crack; last year he and Its A Snip, a 10-year-old with a strong sense of self-preservation, finished second, and he was fined pounds 1,000 by the Jockey Club for obtaining his licence to ride from the British- based Arab Horse Society under false pretences.

This time his licence came from a foreign source. "I'm not saying where", said Mann, "But it was a long way from here. And the irony was that this year the Czech authorities at no stage asked me to produce it.

"Winning gave me an extra kick because the Jockey Club turned me down. When authority says you cannot, it's human nature that when you pull off the dream it will be extra-special. I've no desire to get Jockey Club backs up, but several jockeys have suffered the same injury and were allowed to ride again. My specialist said I was fine to ride, but he was overruled."

After his 14-year riding career ended, Mann, a slight, 37-year-old Scot, became the Del boy of Lambourn with transactions that included importing chicken legs, diamonds and caviare and trying to sell two decommissioned submarines to a land-locked African state. But he is now carving out a career as a trainer at Kings Farm Stables, Upper Lambourn.

Last week's win was his 150th and last. Mann said: "When I clambered off his back I was so shattered I couldn't walk, talk or stand upright and 60,000 people were watching every stumble. But I had done what I set out to do."

Daredevil Mann won pounds 14,446, but he treasures more the massive key he brought home. It symbolises not only the freedom of the city of Pardubika, awarded by the rapturous locals, but also the day he beat the system.