One Man shows he is a real champion
Those who had doubted the enigmatic grey One Man left Cheltenham last night with the taste of crow in their mouths after the dual King George winner had paralysed the opposition with a fantastic front-running performance in the Queen Mother Champion Chase.
After puncturing like a pricked balloon in two Gold Cups, One Man had been condemned as a talented dilettante who folded when put under pressure but now we know better: his class allowed him last over extreme distances for so long but not enough to win a Gold Cup.
Back over two miles, One Man cut out the running under Cork-born rider Brian Harding and once Ask Tom and the disappointing Irish hope Klairon Davis began to struggle, One Man had more than enough petrol and gusto to tackle the final hill. For Harding (25), from Castletownroche, Co Cork, it was a wonderfully unlikely result.
He only learned he could be riding One Man on Tuesday evening after One Man's intended jockey Tony Dobbin broke a thumb in the Arkle Trophy. Even then he believed Paul Carberry would be ahead of him in the substitutes list. "It was great of Mr (Gordon) Richards to let me ride him but then he has always stood by me and the horse," a delighted Harding said.
Harding was controversially banned from race riding by the Jockey Club for almost a year following a serious head injury and only returned late last year. Harding admitted to thinking of giving up completely during that dark time, but the son of trainer Jonjo Harding, the man who broke the legendary Dawn Run, said yesterday:
"It hasn't sunk in yet. This is the pinnacle of my career. Tony Dobbin was the first to ring me and tell me how to ride the horse but I'm very sad for him. Racing is all about swings and roundabouts. I'd be watching on telly if I wasn't here today."
Klairon Davis made mistakes at the water and the third last but was never travelling like a winner under Richard Dunwoody, who gave up the ride on One Man last month. "In this class, he probably needs more cut in the ground. At one stage I thought he was going to be tailed off but he galloped on to be fourth. The mistake at the third last finished him but he'll be back for Punchestown," said Klairon Davis's trainer Arthur Moore.
Punchestown could also be a target for the giant French Holly, who turned the Royal & Sun Alliance Hurdle into a 14-length procession for Wexford-born trainer Ferdy Murphy and Dublin owner Kieran Flood. Murphy had been tempted to run French Holly in the Champion Hurdle but a conversation with Istabraq's jockey, Charlie Swan, convinced him to take the novice option.
"I went to a race night in Ireland and spoke to Charlie there who told me exactly what did happen with Istabraq. Charlie is a real gentleman, I have known him since I worked for his father, and I trust him completely, so I rang Kieran Flood to tell him we should go for this race," Murphy said.
Cloone Bridge finished third for Swan in this race and delighted trainer Aidan O'Brien, but the Coral Cup provided real frustration for the visitors, with four of the first five home. Unfortunately they were behind the winner, Top Cees, the horse at the centre of the recent controversial libel trial between trainer Lynda Ramsden and the Sporting Life. Some boos greeted Top Cees' return but Mrs Ramsden held her cool, even when some wags started chanting "Tommo, Tommo" in reference to the television commentator Derek Thompson.
The Arkle colours were victorious in the National Hunt Chase, where the 19th claimed the favourite Farfadet V, and another Cork rider Norman Williamson rode his sixth festival winner on Super Coin in the Mildmay Of Flete.