Jodami battles back to win third Irish Gold Cup

RACING: Victory rehabilitates a fallen champion but his victim may yet hold the whip hand when rivalry is renewed at Cheltenham
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Peter Beaumont shook many hands in the winners' enclosure here yesterday after Jodami's third consecutive success in the Hennessy Gold Cup, but one deserves a special mention.

"Jim Dreaper," its owner introduced himself. "Great race. Well done." Dreaper had just watched Jodami overhaul his own runner, Merry Gale, halfway up the run-in and his was a gesture of goodwill and sportsmanship fully in keeping with the contest that had gone before.

What a race it was. Forget the stewards who took offence at Mark Dwyer's use of the whip and banned him for seven days. The only whip question in the minds of the crowd which had roared Jodami and Merry Gale towards the line was whether Dreaper's runner might have prevailed if Graham Bradley, his rider, had not lost his stick as they jumped the last. They cleared it together, but Merry Gale was quickest away and was perhaps a length up before Jodami, now in top gear himself, started to reel him in. Bradley, who had led from the start, could ride only with hands and heels as Dwyer's mount edged ahead within sight of the post.

After a series of bold and often extravagant leaps, Merry Gale deserved better and Dreaper and Bradley, not to mention Irish racegoers, who are due another champion, may yet reflect that the jockey's slippery grip was a blessing in disguise.

"Obviously it didn't help," Dreaper said. "But it might have been the winning of the next race. If Graham had had it, he might have been beaten a length after a hard race instead of by the three he was.

"Even though he didn't win, for us it was the most satisfying race of his career. Now we have some idea what he is capable of, and when he's fitter he'll probably go faster early on."

If so, Merry Gale will take some catching in the Gold Cup, though whether he will appreciate the extra two furlongs at Cheltenham will become apparent only on 16 March (and as Dreaper pointed, out most of those extra two are uphill).

Jodami, of course, has no such worries and so stands ahead of Merry Gale in the revised ante-post market. He is the clear second-favourite at 5-1 with both Ladbrokes and Coral (a similar show of unanimity sees Master Oats heading their lists at 3-1), butwhile Coral rate Merry Gale as a 6-1 chance (from 10-1) for the Gold Cup, Ladbrokes offer 8-1 (from 12-1). The latter firm's odds include only two other names at less than 16-1, Barton Bank and One Man, both at 8-1.

Beaumont could never be described as effusive, but his satisfaction was clear as he greeted Jodami. "At the last I thought we'd be second, but he really battled," the trainer said. "He'll come on a bit for the race as he hasn't completed for such a long time."

Dwyer too was thoroughly satisfied, despite the stewards' disapproval of his efforts and their refusal earlier in the day to find in his favour when appealing over another whip offence. "I know I'm guilty of what they say, but there's only one mark on Jodami," he said. "Would I have won if I had been any easier on him?"

Perhaps, is the answer but it is hard to blame the jockey for preferring to take no chances.

The doubts about Merry Gale's stamina are serious, but Ireland's devoted National Hunt fans can at last go to Cheltenham with a realistic hope of seeing their first Gold Cup winner since Dawn Run.

Jodami may well prove to be his most formidable opponent, particularly if the going at Cheltenham is good, which would count against Master Oats. All three are unlikely to appear again before the Festival.

Dreaper's most intriguing reflection on Merry Gale's performance was perhaps his comment: "I used to think Harcon was better than Merry Gale, but I'm not so sure. Harcon had earlier taken the grade two novice chase with considerable panache and will now run in the Sun Alliance Chase at the Festival if the going has some cut.

Harcon too is already being talked of as a future Gold Cup horse, and the barren time when Ireland's promising jumpers were almost without exception sold across the water may now be working its way out of the system. The country's indomitable punters deserved nothing more.

HENNESSY COGNAC GOLD CUP 1. JODAMI bay gelding Crash Course - Masterstown Lucy M Dwyer 13-8 fav 2. Merry Gale G Bradley 7-4

3. Nuaffe S O'Donovan 25-1

Also: 14-1 Commercial Artist (4th), 6-1 Chatam (5th), 5-1 Second Schedual (6th).

6 ran. (Trained by P Beaumont, at Brandsby, for J Yeadon). Tote: £2.80; £1.80, £2.00. RF: £3.70. CSF: £4.92.