If Master Oats wins, as all the markets tell us he will, the gelding will take the men behind him into the annals. Having won the Champion Hurdle on Tuesday with Alderbrook, Norman Williamson and Kim Bailey, the jockey and trainer team, are poised to become the first combination since Aubrey Brabazon and Vincent O'Brien in 1950 to take the Festival's most prestigious races in the same year.
Should Master Oats fail, there is a saver in the history stakes. Jodami, the winner in 1993, attempts to become the first horse to regain jumping's championship.
Master Oats owes his prominent ledge in the betting lists to three emphatic wins this season, achieved by the cumulative distance of almost 40 lengths. Many seemed to have ignored the fact that those behind him may not have been the most valiant of warriors but Bailey is not among them. Those with ante-post vouchers for the horse would get little to buoy the spirit if they asked the trainer for an assessment of Master Oats's prospects.
"People have got overexcited about him," Bailey said. "He's got some form on very heavy ground but I don't think it stands up to being very much. There is every reason to pick holes in the form because it isn't very good.
"It's the press and the general public that have made him favourite. Not me. I've already backed him at 50-1 and to me he should now be an 8-1 shot." Bailey, it seems, is not the man to address the troops before the trenches are vacated.
If he does succeed, however, it will be every much as meritorious a victory as Alderbrook's. While the latter was sent through a gruelling schedule to reach fitness, Master Oats's programme has been at the other end of the intensity scale. Bailey may be tempted to take swabs on to the gallops with him when the horse works, as he tends to break blood vessels if he does anything as strong as sneezing. "He goes out twice a day, while the other horses go out just once," the trainer said. "But he doesn't do hard graft. He just does lots of short work."
Jodami's hardiness is not in question, though his consistency deserted him earlier in the season. He fell at Wetherby and unseated at Haydock to destroy his reputation as the smartest jumper since Skippy. A more familiar theme came at Leopardstown last month when he won his third Hennessy Gold Cup.
That outing had the stimulating effect of a sewing needle in the buttock for Jodami, and recent word from his Foulrice Farm stable has been that both Peter Beaumont, his trainer, and the gelding's jockey, Mark Dwyer, believe their horse to be in the best form of his career.
As Beaumont left his yard yesterday, the only problem he could envisage was the Cheltenham terrain. "I'm just worried about the ground," he said. "I'm as pleased as I could be with the horse." The sunny weather at the track yesterday would have given him a similar disposition.
The conditions, however, are turning against the well-backed Miinnehoma, the winner of a virtualy aquatic Grand National last April, and Monsieur Le Cure. Barton Bank should also be discounted as he invariably treats one fence as if someone has thrown pepper in his eyes.
The French, Algan and Val d'Alene, do not seem to have the aptitude of their stablemate, last year's winner, The Fellow, though Val D'Alene has place prospects. The most dangerous of the visitors may be the Irish horse Merry Gale, though his virginity over British fences is a handicap.
"Maybe he'll get caught out, but he's been a very good jumper inasmuch as he knows how to fiddle," Jim Dreaper, the gelding's trainer, said. "The British fences are definitely stiffer, especially at the good tracks like Cheltenham and Haydock. But they're beautifully presented."
The fences have been jumped beautifully for the last two years by Jodami, and he looks beautifully priced at around 5-1. Prepare to feed in the record book.Reuse content