How One Man bounced his way into the hearts of the racing public
Harrogate Advertiser horseracing correspondent Jeff Garlick's latest weekly column.
The racing public seem to have an affinity with grey racehorses and one such beast that caught the imagination of National Hunt enthusiasts was One Man.
Renowned for his jumping ability and high cruising speed, he was nicknamed his “little bouncing ball” by trainer Gordon Richards and was adopted by many as the new Desert Orchid.
He triumphed in 20 of his 35 races and received a Timeform rating of 179, an outstanding figure.
Originally owned and trained in Bishop Auckland by Arthur Stephenson he won three hurdle races. But Stephenson recognised his suitability for steeplechasing saying “Just you wait till you see him go over the black ones [fences]”.
Sadly, Stephenson never saw One Man jump a fence as he died halfway through his horse’s first season in 1993.
He was bought at the subsequent dispersal sale by John Hales for £68,000, despite a vet saying he had feet like a carthorse and was blind in one eye.
Hales had told his wife Pat he had a top budget of £7,000 so when he got home and Pat saw the horse she said: “You’ve bought a blind cripple, but I suppose for £7,000 it’s not the end of the world”. Hales just kept quiet.
Sent to be trained at Greystoke Castle, Cumbria by Gordon Richards, One Man won his first five novice chases ,so the money started to look well spent.
One Man went to the 1994 Cheltenham Festival as the 3/1 favourite for the three-mile Sun Alliance Chase but faded badly, finishing ninth to Monsieur Le Cure. This would not be the first time he found that hill too daunting.
Later that year, One Man was a spectacular winner of the Hennessy Gold Cup under Tony Dobbin. But as he was only rated 135 and carried bottom weight of 10 stone ,his performance was dismissed as merely a good handicap success.
He started his 1995/96 season with victories at Ayr and Haydock and he was favourite to win the King George on Boxing Day, only for the meeting to be abandoned.
The race was re-scheduled for the first week in January at Sandown which caused Hales a big problem. He had booked a big family holiday in Barbados and reckoned Pat would kill him if he cancelled.
Hales eventually managed to watch the race in a betting shop in Bridgetown. The word got around that One Man’s owner was in the shop and all the locals piled money on the horse.
The grey duly romped home, Hales was a local hero and plenty of rum was drunk that night.
One Man was sent off the 11/8 favourite for the 1996 Gold Cup ridden by Richard Dunwoody. But despite cruising to two fences out, his legs turned to clay and he finished a tired sixth behind Imperial Call.
The next season followed the same pattern. He won the Charlie Hall Chase at Wetherby, a second King George and seemed to dispel some of his Cheltenham fears by winning the Pillar Chase in January over 3 miles 1 furlong.
It was however a similar story in the Gold Cup of 1997 when he ended up a tired sixth to Mr Mulligan.
A second win in the Charlie Hall and a victory at Huntingdon proved he still had the talent, but in 1998 rather than going for the Gold Cup at Cheltenham he was targeted at the two-mile Champion Chase. He started at odds of 7/2 and jumped well throughout.
Jockey Brian Harding took him clear at the final turn, where he once again faced the Cheltenham hill.
However, this time the trip was right and he saw off his closest challengers with a blistering change of pace.
One Man’s Queen Mother Champion Chase success is remembered as one of the most emotional Cheltenham victories of all time, as he was led towards the deafening cheers around the winners’ enclosure by a tearful Hales.
Never before had a horse won both the three-mile King George and the two-mile Champion Chase.
It would be nice to leave the story there but the record shows that little more than two weeks later One Man ran in the Melling Chase at Aintree and was killed in a fall at the ninth fence, possibly after suffering a heart attack.
Within six months Richards was dead too ,succumbing to cancer at the age of 68.
But let us remember One Man in his hour of glory, striding up the hill at Cheltenham to the acclaim that was rightly his, a little grey rubber ball who bounced his way into our hearts.