Racing: One Man to shade the grey showdown and hush critics

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The Independent Online
One Man has won the last two runnings of the King George VI Chase, he is unbeaten this season and is favourite to collect the prize for the third time on Boxing Day, yet still he has his detractors. Richard Edmondson suggests they should be ignored.

For weeks now the talk has been of grey horses. The freakish sequence of notable successes for the ashen-faced - such as One Man, Suny Bay, Senor El Betrutti, The Grey Monk and Relkeel - have led to many comparisons with those of that hue from the past.

There has been mention of Airborne and Nicolaus Silver, the last grey winners of the Derby and Grand National respectively. The name of Stalbridge Colonist, who beat Arkle in the Hennessy Gold Cup at a time when they were putting anvils rather than lead weights in the great horse's weight cloth, has also been resurrected. And, of course, the loudest fanfare has been saved for Desert Orchid, the last truly great public horse.

Among all the recollections and study of the present grey eminences one horse has stood out. For while the milestones and glory moments of the majority have been applauded, it is a peculiar fact that when One Man is discussed the collective voice chooses to examine failure rather than achievement.

So while the nine-year-old may have won 18 races and more than pounds 320,000 in prize-money, the beam always seems to fall on the two contests that have witnessed him at his weakest. One Man, it must be said, has looked quite horrible on his two efforts in the Cheltenham Gold Cup. On both occasions he has appeared the likely winner two fences out before shrivelling as quickly as a crisp packet on the fire at the foot of the final ascent.

It would be cruel and unjustified if this was to be the abiding memory of the horse. Over three miles on flat tracks One Man is as formidable as a starving tiger, and for those who have rubbished him in the build- up to the King George VI Chase at Kempton on Boxing Day the salutary message is that that is exactly the examination the chunky horse will face on Friday.

It may be that a residual affection for Desert Orchid means that some of racing's followers are unable to let their hearts go again. Certainly, One Man brushes the path for his detractors by the way he behaves in the closing stages of his contests.

The sight has become familiar. One Man travels in his races as if only a freak act of nature can move him off course, but on the run-in he often looks like a leaf being tossed around in a storm. Gordon Richards, the horse's trainer, believes these last-minute collapses to be evidence of non-staying, but as One Man effects this drama over a range of distances there must be more to it than that.

Richard Dunwoody, the riding half of the partnership, has long wanted to have his One2One with One Man. His theory is that the horse might be protecting himself from the onset of a pain he has felt before by easing up.

Whatever the cause, One Man is now considered vulnerable on Friday to anything with a smattering of class and a central rod of resolution. Suny Bay is thought by many to be a roaring danger as he has won both his starts this season (One Man has done the same).

The fellow grey has stepped up a shelf in performance this campaign with facile wins at Haydock and in the Hennessy Gold Cup. Yet he comes to this race almost as an afterthought as Sunbury is considered by his connections to be the domain of One Man.

If there is a temptation to back Suny Bay over the next few days it should be for the Cheltenham Gold Cup. If he fails in the King George there will be legitimate excuse in the configuration of the track and his price will barely alter, but should he win there will inevitably be an immediate and significant contraction for the Festival. The Tote are largest at 6-1 for the Blue Riband.

The composition of the King George field is as yet imprecise, even though nine runners were declared yesterday. If it rains significantly, as the forecasters tell us it might, then both Rough Quest and See More Business will start but Senor El Betrutti will be removed from consideration. In any case, the Senor may find the distance too great.

Rough Quest, last year's Grand National winner, worked quite beautifully on Terry Casey's gallops on Monday and looks a nice price at 9-1 with Coral and William Hill to reach the frame. Barton Bank is shorter than Rough Quest in the market, and, while another honest display is almost assured, he is not at his perkiest when there are puddles around.

ONE MAN (nap 2.20), too, is probably not at his best on going any worse than good to soft, yet the image of his previous success here, and in the Sandown version of January 1996, is too powerful to ignore. If he makes it three consecutive King Georges it is to be hoped that this is also the perception which is branded in the minds of the grey's critics.