If anything kept Dunwoody bouncing as Perfect Pal deposited his partner on Ascot's turf on Saturday it must have been the thought that he will seldom go into a championship contest such as Thursday's with such bounteous prospects. The Irishman understands that his competitive career is unlikely to make it to the millenium and, indeed, even that is an impossibly long- range target. "It could all be finished today, tomorrow or on Boxing Day," he said. "You can never look too far ahead in this game."
In some circles it had been portrayed that Dunwoody had chosen One Man for the King George in preference to the Irish horse Sound Man (no relation), but the reality is that he has a verbal agreement with the former's connections to ride the grey all season. This bonding cannot have been difficult for the jockey if even the tiniest vestige of One Man's previous win in this race remained in Dunwoody's mind. That event, rescheduled to Sandown in January, gives his rider the chance to go into quiz literature as the only man to win the race twice in one year.
One Man was as devastating at Esher last year as much as he was disappointing in the Gold Cup. It is to the eight-year-old's advantage that he now goes for a contest that delights in recrowning its champions. Since 1973 there have been six horses who have won at least two King Georges, a feat that has not been achieved once in the Gold Cup over the same period.
The greatest of them all, of course, was another of One Man's hue, Desert Orchid, who made six consecutive appearances in the King George, winning on four occasions. Dessie further proves that age has not wearied him when he parades on Thursday just a week before his 18th birthday.
Barton Bank, the winner in 1993, will also put in an appearance (still on a competitive level), but there will be no show from the 1994 victor, Algan, who was not among the four-strong contingent that set out from Francois Doumen's Lamorlaye yard in France for England yesterday morning. "It is entirely because of the ground," the trainer said. "It's a bloody shame because he is so well."
Two other horses (Sound Man and Oatis Regrets) dropped out at yesterday's forfeit stage, leaving a maximun force of eight. However, the state of the Kempton going, and the state of one of Mr Mulligan's feet, means the field may eventually be whittled down to four and the smallest field since Burrough Hill Lad beat two opponents in 1984.
Mr Mulligan has sustained bruising after stepping on a stone. His foot is occupying a receptacle normally reserved for champagne over the festive period, an ice-filled bucket. Couldnt Be Better and Trying Again are also likely to be withdrawn if the ground is on the fast side of good, while, even more disappointingly, there are doubts about the participation of the second favourite and Grand National winner, Rough Quest. Terry Casey, the gelding's trainer, will walk the course today to determine whether the 10-year-old takes part.
Rough Quest was received so well after his win in a Folkestone novice hurdle last week that it came as a bit of a surprise that he was not borne into the winners' enclosure on a garlanded platform carried by a team of eunuchs. This, however, was not a performance that had either Gordon Richards, One Man's trainer, or Dunwoody, hurrying to the drinks cabinet in search of comfort. "I do see Rough Quest as the danger, but if One Man had been in that [Folkestone] race we would have expected him to win too and he wouldn't have started at 5-1 either," Dunwoody said.
If Rough Quest defects, many people's idea of the danger will be Strong Promise, the Murphy's Gold Cup runner-up. However, a line through his recent Ascot victim, Major Bell, suggests Geoff Hubbard's young horse would have a job beating One Man's stablemate Unguided Missile, never mind the big horse himself. As the three-mile trip is also an unknown factor, it may be best to stick with Barton Bank for the forecast.
The greatest peril to One Man comes from another forecast, that of the weather. Kempton is held at the moment by the sort of central continental conditions more reminiscent of the Canadian prairies. The atmosphere is icicle cold and a slicing wind is tearing across Sunbury, where sub-zero temperatures are anticipated over the next few days. Last Boxing Day all 10 cards were claimed by the elements, but Peter McNeile, the Kempton clerk of the course, was confident yesterday that the frost could be repelled.
If racing does go ahead it will be the last time that Kempton's unique Yuletide atmosphere is enjoyed in this particular backdrop. When the crowds returns to Kempton for Boxing Day 1997 it will be to a new pounds 8.4m grandstand development, on which work will begin in February. Richard Dunwoody and One Man (2.15) are most likely to be at the head of any grandstand finish to finish the old grandstand.
KING GEORGE VI CHASE -10-YEAR-TALE
1986 87 88 89 90 91 92 93 94 95 Fate of the favourites: 4 2 1 1 1 3 1 3 U 1
Winner's place in betting: 0 0 1 1 1 0 1 2jt 0 1
Winners' SPs: 16-1 25-1 1-2 4-6 9-4 10-1 1-1 9-2 16-1 11-4
Profit or loss to pounds 1 stake: Favourites -pounds 0.58. Second Favourites -pounds 6.25
Percentage of winners placed 1st, 2nd or 3rd in last race: 56%
Shortest-priced winner: Desert Orchid 1-2 (1998) jt = joint favourite
Longest-priced winner: Nupsala 25-1 (1987)
Top trainers: F Doumen (4) - Nupsala (1987), The Fellow (1991 & 1992), Algan (1994).
Top jockey: R Dunwoody (3): Desert Orchid (1989 & 1990), One Man (1995)