Stamina and confidence ebb; as One Man cracks record
The hue and the hunger at fences are becoming a familiar part of the King George, and One Man's connections can take away from this event the knowledge that no horse, not even Dessie himself, has completed the course faster than their charge yesterday.
A darker analogy was suggested though by One Man's rapidly deteriorating condition at the line. It seems the eight-year-old too will struggle to be the force at Cheltenham, in chasing's one greater championship prize, than he is around the flatlands of the Home Counties.
It may seem odious to search for the soft underbelly of a horse who won by 12 lengths and took his career prize-money over the pounds 250,000 mark. Yet, even amid the euphoria of yesterday, Team One Man seemed to appreciate the rigours of Prestbury Park and the Gold Cup may be too much for their athlete. "At the end of a race like this he deserves to be getting a little bit tired and if there had been another fence halfway up the run-in he probably wouldn't have stopped," Richard Dunwoody, who rode into the record books with his fourth King George, said. "He did tie up a bit, and that's probably half idling and being in front too long, and half him coming to the end of his tether."
It may even be that One Man never runs in another Gold Cup. The grey will go for a sighter in the Cotswolds on 25 January in the Pillar Chase and has to succeed to nourish thoughts that his stamina will last a further half mile than yesterday's assignment. "If he can't win that he can't win a Gold Cup," Gordon Richards, the trainer, said, adding that the two- mile Queen Mother Champion Chase was an alternative target.
John Hales, One Man's owner, was a happy man yesterday even before his horse won. When your business is toys it is difficult to be glum at this time of the year. As a field denuded by the absence of Couldnt Be Better, Nahthen Lad and Trying Again (due to the good to firm ground) circled in the paddock Hales's red and yellow colours were transported by the smallest horse. The long-necked and beastly Strong Promise was the largest, and if he ever goes for a dip in the waters of Loch Ness there will be a stampede to the Highlands.
The chestnut and white-faced Mr Mulligan looked as if he had visited the face-painting booth, while Rough Quest carried Mick Fitzgerald and an advertisement for Smirnoff, which would have been of use to competitors and spectators alike on a chillingly cold afternoon.
When battle commenced Mr Mulligan appeared to be setting nothing more energetic than a sedate pace, but this illusion was later exposed by the clocker. For much of the journey they were like mountaineers strapped together on a crag face, pulling each other along in the same order. Behind the pacesetter came Barton Bank, Strong Promise, One Man and Rough Quest, once again the stalking horse. The first fissure appeared after the 12th obstacle when Strong Promise delivered signs that he was finding this assignment arriving too early in his career.
Down the far side for the final time Barton Bank again showed his weakness for being magnetised to the bottom of a fence, and the conundrum became whether One Man could catch Mr Mulligan. The grey did not leave this riddle hanging around for long. He swept past the leader in the straight.
Mr Mulligan suffered a fatigued fall at the last following a mistake he would have survived earlier in the race, but it then became clear he was not the only exhausted animal. One Man's furnace seemed to go from roaring coals to ashes in the space of a few strides, but by then his labours had sent him clear. Rough Quest trotted in for the pounds 24,000 second place prize-money, thank you very much.
If the result - a victory for the 8-13 favourite - was no surprise, the bookmaker reaction certainly was. Ladbrokes soberly left One Man at 7- 1 for the Gold Cup -but trimmed Rough Quest from 10-1 to 8-1 and Mr Mulligan from 25-1 to 20-1 - while William Hill's was the voice from bedlam as they cut the grey to 11-2.
As he analysed events, Richards, for the first time, entertained the notion that three miles on a flat course may be as far as One Man wants to go. This five minutes at Sunbury seemed to have told him more than the months of consideration since his horse faded dramatically in the Gold Cup last March. "He was very quiet after that and we did so many tests on him," the Greystoke trainer said. "He didn't break a blood vessel because we scoped him there and then. And we listened to his ticker and that was all right. It's still a mystery. But I don't mind what they say about this horse as long as he keeps winning."
While Richards spoke, a roar developed in the distance as the white shape of Concorde set out on a transatlantic mission. For the white horse, shorter hauls may be more appropriate.
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