Racing : Stamina remains grey area

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The Independent Online
One man laid to rest his Cheltenham ghost here yesterday, but all but ruled himself out of the Gold Cup in the process. The Pillar Property Investments Chase had been billed as his judgement day after three failures round the testing contours of Prestbury Park, but although he did win, it was by only a head that he scraped home from Barton Bank, a horse he left for dead in the King George VI Chase only a month ago, and the race raised more questions than it answered.

The flying grey is the unquestioned king round a flat three miles, but yesterday's extra furlong and a half - and the severe climb to the finish - seemed to test One Man's stamina to its limit. He was cantering as Richard Dunwoody brought him to tackle the trailblazing Barton Bank approaching the final fence, but there was little left at the line.

The Queen Mother Champion Chase over two miles now seems the most likely Festival option for John Hales' nine-year-old. His trainer Gordon Richards confessed: "If he was mine, that would be his target, followed by the Martell Chase [at Aintree]. They wouldn't take him off the bridle in the shorter race here, and three miles round Liverpool would be absolutely perfect for him. I'm relieved that he's finally broken his Cheltenham duck, but we'll now all have to sit down and discuss the situation."

One Man, as is his wont, was more or less foot-perfect as Dunwoody rode a waiting race, but neat rather than extravagant, and his ability to gain lengths in the air would have been more evident off a stronger pace. Dunwoody said: "There was nothing wrong with the way he travelled through the race, or with the way he jumped. But in the last 20 yards he was tying up." Bookmaker reaction was to lengthen One Man's Gold Cup odds; he is now 8-1 with Corals.

But if Cheltenham's unique features are One Man's poison, they are meat and drink to Dublin Flyer. John Sumner's huge brown home-bred gelding produced a virtuoso front- running performance to take the Ladbroke Trophy Handicap Chase earlier in the day and his bold, fearless jumping earned him the Cheltenham roar of affection and admiration that is reserved for real favourites.

Humping 12 stone, Dublin Flyer came willingly up the final hill under Brendan Powell's urgings to hold off another of Richards' Gold Cup aspirants, Addington Boy, by two lengths. His championship odds were slashed from 33-1 to around 12-1, and Richards himself said: "He's a bloody good horse, and if he stays, he's the one everyone's got to beat."

Like One Man, Dublin Flyer flopped in last year's Gold Cup. His trainer Tim Forster said: "We never did find out why, but on that occasion Brendan said he knew after two fences there was something wrong." The 11-year- old was notching his third course victory. "He loves it round here," said Forster, "and it's a good place to love."

If One Man does not turn out for the Gold Cup, Richards has three able understudies in fast-ground specialist Addington Boy, who will be better suited to the Gold Cup trip of three and a quarter miles and 110 yards than yesterday's two miles and five furlongs, the mud-loving The Grey Monk - due to run in the Hennessy Gold Cup in Ireland next weekend - and Unguided Missile.

Large Action's unbeaten sequence since his third place in the 1995 Champion Hurdle now stands at five after his defeat of Pridwell and Castle Sweep in the Cleeve Hurdle. The Oliver Sherwood-trained nine-year-old moved smoothly into the lead approaching the last and only had to be pushed out to maintain a length and three-quarters advantage at the line, winning, as his previous form entitled him to and his odds-on starting price implied he would, with the minimum of fuss.

And, if the race told watchers little new about Large Action's ability, he has now proved three times in public this season that he is in fighting trim for his third assault on the hurdlers' title, which is three times more than the reigning Champion Hurdler and favourite Collier Bay.