All the visitors to Gordon Richards's Cumbrian yard this past week have not had their four-poster sheets turned down.
Desert Orchid, of course, had a mint left on his plumped-up pillow, but there have been arrivals far darker than the animal we must now call the white horse. Sickness has dropped its bags at Greystoke and we will soon learn if it has fed into the bloodstream of the yard's most celebrated performer, One Man.
The modern-day great grey leaves the infirmary for the King George VI Chase at Kempton on Boxing Day with much to prove to just about all those except the team who do the fanning in his corner. Illness at home and a residual wariness of One Man's combative qualities have persuaded many to write the gelding off.
There were more poisonous darts in the blowpipe on Saturday after the grey's stablemate Unguided Missile was badly beaten in the Betterware Cup at Ascot. This seemed further evidence of an epidemic in the communal living quarters, though this was not a theory that the innkeeper himself accepted yesterday. "The horse fought with the weight and then we just held on to him a bit," Richards said. "Richard [Dunwoody, the jockey] felt it was a big improvement from Haydock and he isn't ill. He's been out here in a field this morning and he's come back all right.
"We've had a little bit of something in the yard but I think he's over that now. But it's like someone running after they've had a bit of flu. He was probably just 90 per cent ready."
One Man has also had a clip board at the bottom of his bed, but his trainer considers there is little wrong with the beast who goes for a hat-trick in Sunbury's premier contest on Friday.
"We tested One Man once, but I know he's all right because he tells me," the trainer said. "Horses do tell you, and testing them can be a ruddy waste of time. All I can say is that I've never had him better, and we'll all find out on Boxing Day. The ground won't matter. He flows along on the good but he goes on the soft too.
"People always seem to want to pull down the good horse. George Best was a great footballer but even then some of them wanted to say he wasn't in the right place at the right time. Whatever happens to our horse we love him and we know he's a good 'un. He'll prove that to them all I tell you. I wish I had a few more like him."
One Man will not be running up dunes in army boots between now and Friday. The conditioning work is completed and now the programme is designed to keep him interested. "I'm quite happy with him so he will just tick over now before going down on Christmas Day," Richards added. "He will have a light canter each day and a quick canter on Wednesday and that will be him finished."
Those at Greystoke are rather bemused at the groundswell that their horse is there for the taking. "If he was a south-country horse, a Lambourn horse, he wouldn't be finished," Richards said. "I can't win without the gee-gee - you can't win a selling plate if the horse is not well - but I'm happy. They're saying it's a good field against him now, but if he wins I don't suppose it will be that good after all."
Paul Nicholls was whistling around his owners yesterday to determine whether See More Business would be allowed to wrestle the crown from the old king. The Ditcheat trainer is monitoring the weather and will allow his horse to run if the anticipated rains arrive. See More Business will run if it is soft, but not if the going is deemed good to soft, which just goes to show how fussy some horses, or possibly their trainers, can be.
One Man will not be allowed such excuses in defeat and the betting police are now getting stuck into him as the nine-year-old has drifted to odds against in recent days.
KING GEORGE VI CHASE (Kempton, Boxing Day): Coral: evens One Man, 5-2 Suny Bay, 9-2 Barton Bank, 8-1 Rough Quest, 12-1 See More Business, 16- 1 Challenger Du Luc, 25-1 others.
Ladbrokes: 11-10 One Man, 5-2 Suny Bay, 4-1 Barton Bank, 10-1 Rough Quest, 14-1 Senor El Betrutti, 16-1 Challenger Du Luc & See More Business, 33- 1 others.
William Hill: evens One Man, 11-4 Suny Bay, 9-2 Barton Bank, 9-1 Rough Quest, 16-1 Senor El Betrutti, 20-1 Challenger Du Luc & See More Business, 25-1 Djeddah, 66-1 Yorkshire Gale, 100-1 Go Ballistic.
WELSH NATIONAL (HANDICAP CHASE) (Chepstow, Saturday): Coral: 5-1 Cyborgo, 7-1 Indian Tracker, 8-1 Banjo, Bell's Life, General Wolfe, Samlee, 10- 1 What A Hand, 12-1 Dom Samourai, 16-1 others.
Ladbrokes: 9-2 Cyborgo, 7-1 Bell's Life, Indian Tracker, 8-1 Banjo, General Wolfe, 9-1 Samlee, 11-1 others.
William Hill: 5-1 Cyborgo, 7-1 Bell's Life, Indian Tracker, 8-1 General Wolfe, 10-1 Banjo, Samlee, 12-1 Belmont King, What A Hand, 16-1 Cariboo Gold, 20-1 others.
NAP: Night City
NB: What A Fuss
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