Racing: Sound can be the best Man

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The Independent Online
It is an interesting paradox that many punters would nominate One Man as the best chaser currently in training, but rather fewer would risk even a shilling on his chance of winning the Gold Cup at Cheltenham next month, writes Greg Wood.

Chasing's greatest prize appears to ask too much of the grey's stamina, and indeed some would argue that the number of horses able to see out the 26furlong trip is decreasing all the time. Yet at the other end of the distance scale, there is no end of top-class performers, and the final furlong of the Queen Mother Champion Chase regularly provides the most thrilling conclusion to any race at the Festival.

How fascinating it is, then, to find one of our best two-milers, Sound Man, lining up against his near-namesake One Man for the Comet Chase at Ascot this afternoon, over a distance, two and a half miles, which should suit both horses ideally.

With the promising novice Strong Promise and the course specialist Big Matt also in opposition, nothing can be taken for granted, but it seems likely that this will be a Man's race. But which one? The grey, winner of the King George VI Chase at Kempton on Boxing Day, seems sure to start favourite, while Sound Man's jumping has sometimes let him down when the pressure is on.

It may be significant, though, that Charlie Swan, who was associated with Sound Man (3.05) during his excellent novice season, will be in his saddle once again this afternoon, and what value there is in today's race must lie with Edward O'Grady's runner. The best bet, however, is probably to enjoy the moment and hope that the best Man wins.

While purists will turn their attention towards Ascot, the all-weather card at Wolverhampton will also generate more interest than usual this afternoon, as Lanfranco Dettori swings into the plate on a British course for the first time this year.

The first jockey since Lester Piggott to capture the imagination of the non-punting public, and a thousand times more media-friendly, the Italian has numbered Top Of The Pops and the Clive Anderson Show among his non- racing engagements in recent months, so Wolverhampton in February may come as something of a shock to the system.

Backers, though, will be surprised if Dettori's famous determination is not in evidence, and it will be an excellent afternoon for the bookies if he fails to ride at least one of his three mounts to victory.

Maradata (2.50), who ran 23 times last year under a variety of riders, but whose three successes all came with Dettori on board, looks a particularly promising candidate.