Super Man seems invincible

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With one devastating display, One Man wiped away the vast majority of the questions asked about him in the King George VI Chase at Sandown on Saturday. All that remains to complete the examination and enter the class of great heroes is the tie-breaker of the Cheltenham Gold Cup in March.

For all the majesty and imperiousness of the grey's weekend romp, there must remain a speck of doubt concerning his return to Prestbury Park. Gordon Richards, One Man's trainer, remains a mute figure when asked to explain his charge's failure on his only previous visit to the bottom of Cleeve Hill, in the Sun Alliance Chase of 1994.

That is not to say Richards believes Britain's premier course holds a hex for his horse. "I'd like to run him at Cheltenham before the Festival and to me it won't bother him," he said yesterday. "He'd jump anywhere, wouldn't he? Why wouldn't he? He's been two or three times round Haydock, he's been to Sandown and Newbury.

"Take it from me, he's a great jumper and if he gets very good ground you will see a proper athlete because that's what he is.

"We may go to Cheltenham at the end of the month, as we would like him to have a run round there before the Gold Cup, but it may come too soon for him. In the event of him not running at Cheltenham he will run once, or possibly twice during February, depending on how hard a race he has first time."

If Saturday's entertainment can be repeated, aficionados will hope it is the second option. It was a day for queues, with people lining up in newsagents chasing a dream that only a few would fulfil, while all roads to Esher were choked by those who were later satisfied to a man.

It was a grey day in many senses with overcast conditions matching the colour of both One Man and Desert Orchid, who popularised the hue. Dessie may now be 17 but there was still enough of the prancer and showman about him in his parade to suggest he could get a job elsewhere with an acrobat standing between his shoulder blades.

One Man made a slight clown of himself at the first, but from then on he systematically tamed his field. "As we went past the stands I was absolutely swinging and I said to Adrian [Maguire, Barton Bank's jockey] that we weren't going much of a gallop," Richard Dunwoody, One Man's rider, said. "But he didn't seem to agree with me.

"This horse is very neat, with a lot of scope, and if you want him to go long he'll come up for you. He's very clever as well. Desert Orchid is the best horse I've ever ridden but this one would not be far off him."

Seldom, if ever, has a King George been won in this manner. One Man's rivals (who were 14 lengths and more behind) were not just beaten, they were reduced to a state of exhaustion. Barton Bank and Merry Gale were pulled up by their jockeys, while poor Book Of Music was arrested by the seventh fence and broke his back.

The scalps were largely of the sport's tribal chiefs and there is such little else around to challenge One Man's supremacy that he is as low as 5-4 for the Gold Cup. Several animals in the revised market appear to be at an artificially short price just because they did not compete (and were therefore not exposed) on Saturday.

And it may be there is more to come. "He'll improve a little bit from today and, as he's a young horse gaining experience, I see no reason why he can't go into the Gold Cup with a sporting chance," Richards said, with a measure of understatement. "I'm starting to rate him a bit now.

"He goes on soft ground but he'd be better on good because he just floats along. He's jumped well today but he can do even better than that."

Indeed, the notion that sticky ground emasculates One Man was largely demolished on Saturday as the three behind him - Monsieur Le Cure, Master Oats and Val D'Alene - are beasts noted for performing best when the going is close to porridge.

If the general mood was of triumph, there was also a trace of emotion in the air as Richards charted the history of One Man. "I knew I'd win a lot of races with this horse because he'd been trained by a very shrewd cookie, a beautiful man who knew everything about horses and taught me an awful lot," he said. "I'm talking now about W A Stephenson.

"He told me the horse had got big feet and a big heart and would be something over 'the black ones'.

"'Now young man,' he said to me [which takes some doing as Richards is 65]. 'Wait until you see him jump a black one.' That was enough for me. When the poor man died I wanted that horse."

One Man was bought for the not inconsiderable sum of 68,000gns at the Stephenson dispersal sale, but not even an overnight sojourn in a sleeping bag last week on Harrods' doorstep would have secured a better bargain. The grey has earned close to pounds 100,000 above his purchase price.

This means that his owner, John Hales, can afford the odd exotic holiday or two, which is exactly what he was doing on Saturday. The toy manufacturer did not miss out on events entirely however as he arranged for a line to pump in the commentary as he relaxed in Barbados.

One Man is usually a relaxed and mild-mannered character himself, the sort of animal you leave in the front room with the children while making a pot of tea. "I love him because he's a lovely, laid-back horse," Richards said. "He's not a tearaway, he's a trainer's hack and I ride him because he's got a lovely temperament."

Once on the training grounds, however, the persona changes. "He does like to get on and do his job," Richards added. "He's like a little tank, a little ball of fire. He's beautiful to ride."

One person who has occupied the turret is Lucinda Green, the six-time Badminton winner and former world and European three-day eventing champion. Even she was surprised by One Man's strength on a visit to Greystoke.

"When she came up I said don't move too much on him Lucinda or he'll be gone with you dear," Richards reported. "She said: 'I can see that, Gordon'."

Gordon himself was also slightly relieved on Saturday as he suspected the horse might have been short of a gallop. The weather has been so severe in Cumbria over Christmas that the all-weather gallop at Greystoke froze up for the first time in the trainer's 30-year tenure at the yard. An anvil dropped from the back of a pick-up would not have made an impression in the frost-impregnated terrain.

That should not happen again if the warmth of Richards's expectation continues. He now sees his first Gold Cup twinkling on the horizon. "I've always rated him as a decent horse and I didn't want to say he was a champion, I wanted him to prove that," the trainer said. "I think he's on the way."


Favourites: 12 out of 31 won producing a loss to a level pounds 1 stake of pounds 5.93.

Winner at longest price: Collier Bay, 25-1, put himself into Ladbroke Hurdle and Champion Hurdle reckoning when winning Sandown's opener from 18lb out of the handicap.

Winner at longest Tote odds: El Rubio, who won the finale at Warwick, returned a starting-price of just 16-1 but a Tote return of pounds 37.20.

Shortest-priced loser: Jibber The Kibber (evens) crashed at the fourth on his fencing debut at Warwick and In The Band (evens) went down by a neck to Posen Gold at Lingfield.

Worst Tote odds: Volunteer, last leg of a David Bridgwater four-timer at Warwick, returned an SP of 15-2 (7.5-1), but paid only 5.5-1 on the Tote.

Tote Placepots: Sandown (3 placed favourites) pounds 204.50; Haydock (5 placed favourites) pounds 33.20; Warwick (4 placed favourites) pounds 35.30; Lingfield (4 placed favourites) pounds 17.90.

Jackpot: No winners at Sandown so there is a carry-over of pounds 13,868.75 to today.

Jockey: Graham Bradley, who showed the gumption to head for the better ground under the stands' rail for victory on Collier Bay at Sandown.

Trainer: Peter Bowen, a first-season trainer from Haverfordwest, near the south-west tip of Wales, made it five winners from just 25 runners when sending Stately Home on an 800-mile round trip to win the selling hurdle at Sedgefield on Thursday.

Horse: Draborgie, a winner five times in France - including two chases at Auteuil - carried automatic top-weight (less sex and age allowance) for her debut for Martin Pipe at Warwick yesterday. The confidence of those that backed her to 10-11 was not misplaced as she demolished a large field to win by 25 lengths.