Racing: Yet another large step for Mann

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When he was forced to give up riding for training, Charlie Mann had little more than a reputation as a fast liver and a fast talker. His remarkable results have proved the doubters wrong and, as Richard Edmondson hears, he could be poised to record his biggest success yet at Ascot tomorrow.

If he wins the Victor Chandler Chase at Ascot tomorrow, Celibate will become Mann's best friend. Charlie Mann has been many things in his life - bon viveur, potty jockey and submarine salesman - but now the vision is set solely on becoming a successful trainer. And when it comes to hoardings there is nothing better than a big-race televised winner on a Saturday.

Charlie James Mann, you may remember, was the rider who damaged his neck so badly that he was banned by the Jockey Club doctor from riding in Britain. He was told it would be madness to continue.

Charlie, though, preferred a second opinion, his own, and, most notably, went on to ride Its A Snip to victory in the gruesome Velka Pardubicka in 1995 on an international licence. It was like walking to the North Pole to prove you didn't have a sniffle.

Mann rode 84 winners in Britain, but has established himself more readily as a businessman of the bizarre. Apart from selling a submarine from Hull's docks, he has dealt in caviar and American grain. He doesn't mind letting you know he has been a bit of a wheeler-dealer in his time.

"I like to think I'm pretty streetwise and to survive as a trainer you've got to be like that," he said yesterday. "From riding to training takes a bit of doing, and being streetwise doesn't hurt you. If you need to make a few quid every day you get out of bed a bit earlier than most."

This is a milestone year for Mann. At the end of February, he moves from Kings Farm Stables to Whitcoombe Park, which may only be a mile away on the Ordnance Survey map of Upper Lambourn but is light years removed in terms of facilities. "We've got horses all over the shop at the moment," he said. "We've got only 18 boxes in our main yard and we've got 36 horses in, eight at various studs and about 50 on the books with no room to put them all.

"At the new place we'll have an absolutely top-class establishment, including facilities we haven't got right now, 54 boxes, horsewalkers, jumping rings and 20 acres of land. It's amazing to think that when we started less than five years ago I had just two horses and a pounds 28,000 overdraft."

Mann will be 40 on the eve of the Grand National, and, this summer, he marries one of his owners, Susannah Barraclough, whom he will not exactly be rescuing penniless from a women's refuge. "She's got a lot more money than I have," he observed.

Charlie is not really destitute himself and has managed to assemble some wealthy owners at his court. The unkind say this is because he is very good at speaking the stuff you find in farmers' fields, but there are also figures to back up his training skills. Mann has increased his total for the four years he has held a licence and is on course to continue the pattern. "I've attracted the owners through good looks and charm I hope," he said. "But, really, it's results basically, and if you get winners you get owners."

A winner at Ascot tomorrow would post an emphatic advertisement, and to hear Mann talk you realise that he has already set aside several hours on Sunday morning to take phone calls. "He [Celibate] won round there on the same ground last time and he's quite well handicapped," the trainer reported. "I think Or Royal is a two-and- a-half-mile horse and Mulligan has got his jumping problems, so they've all got us to beat. He's a decent little horse, he's in great form and he worked really well the other day.

"Mr Dunwoody wanted to ride him [though Mick Fitzgerald actually takes the mount] so that is always an incentive to run a horse, but even if he wins we won't be satisfied. We're still very hungry and marriage won't stop that. We'll still keep going forward hopefully."