Racing: Son's setback mars a One Man show

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The Independent Online
It was supposed to be a tight contest between three of Britain's top steeplechasers, but injury to Martha's Son spoilt appreciation of One Man's success in yesterday's Peterborough Chase. Richard Edmondson reports from Huntingdon.

One Man won, but one contest and a racehorse were badly damaged here yesterday when Martha's Son broke down in the Peterborough Chase. What had been billposted as a definitive encounter of the champions concluded in muted celebrations and enquiries about the welfare of the Queen Mother Champion Chaser.

Martha's Son was taken from this theatre in a horse ambulance and taken to another, at the Abbots Ripton Veterinary Hospital, by the racecourse vet, Peter Green, for an x-ray examination. The original diagnosis was that the 10-year-old had cracked a pastern. What seems more certain is the fissure between Martha's Son and future racing involvement. Tim Forster, the gelding's trainer, was talking about his career in the past tense last night.

The injury was a sad distraction from what had been another compelling display by One Man. His jumping and movement was once again sublime, and he threw in another foxy moment when he took his hooves off the handlebars and coasted home.

This was a different One Man than the one we had seen at Wetherby. This time he was a tighter, race-taut figure. His dark eye looked keen in the parade ring, like coal in the snow. Martha's Son circled with his trademark cock of the tail as if the racecourse shovel would soon have to be employed.

Viking Flagship, the last of the big three, suggested that the years have hardly eaten at his store of energy. He was a mustang in the preliminaries, thrashing around with the excitement of a skittish juvenile making its course debut rather than an old flyer on his 51st mission. Michael Aspel must be getting round to him soon.

The Last Fling pulled around the original six-strong field until the fourth fence, after which Martha's Son was immediately brought to a halt. There was almost a second moment of deflation at the fence out of the straight, when the leader fell and Viking Flagship had to display his nimbleness.

After that, One Man, at the head of the field, was a beacon in the creeping gloom. His rider, Richard Dunwoody, was pressing on in an effort to draw the sting from a rival who was no longer in the race. "There was no point hanging around as the plan was to burn off Martha's Son's speed," the jockey said, "but then I turned round and asked Adrian [Maguire, Viking Flagship's jockey] where Martha's Son was just before the ditch and he told me he'd pulled up."

One Man flew the second last and behind him the greenery did the same as Viking Flagship's challenge evaporated in a single error. Then came a repetition of the grey's dying swan finale as he trundled home unconvincingly. "He pricked his ears on the run-in because it was all too easy for him," Dunwoody reported. "He's an intelligent horse."

Gordon Richards, the winning trainer, added: "He jumped well, with his ears pricked, but when he heard the crowd he was having a little look again. He knew that he had done his job."

Richards had been searching for vindication that his horse was good enough to take on the best two-milers (if he goes to the Festival, the Champion Chase will be his objective) and was rather disappointed that the evidence was not conclusive. "I'm sad about the other horse because he was the one we really wanted to test ourselves against," he said. "Today was a day I was meant to find out, but I can't do that against Martha's now can I? We don't think ours is a Gold Cup horse any more and we just wanted to see if he had as much speed as we think he has.

"Even if he'd got beat today, we'd still have gone to Kempton [for the King George VI Chase] because that's always been our race. He's one of the best-rated chasers and it's just a pity he can't win a Gold Cup. I've got to dig another one out of the bag."

Tim Forster, too, will have to find another athlete to replace one of the most thrilling jumpers of recent years. He chose not to dwell on his misfortune yesterday but rather recalled Martha's Son's fightback from injury and glorious successes at the highest level.

"The one thing to remember is that he's done it," he said. "Despite all that's happened to him over the years he's come back and won a Champion Chase.''