Master Oats rated as top of chasing's crop

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The Independent Online
Master Oats's status as the Gold Cup favourite was buttressed yesterday when the Timeform organisation reaffirmed its opinion that he is the best staying chaser in training. The firm's assessment cannot take account of such vital factors as the going at Cheltenham in March, but the judgement of the sport's most experienced independent handicappers must still be respected. Timeform has raised Kim Bailey's gelding to a mark of 178, 6lb ahead of Barton Bank and Bradbury Star. "He looks all over a Gold Cup winner," Simon Rowlands, the firm's senior jumps handicapper, said yesterday. "Although the conditions on Saturday were probably ideal for Master Oats, there is no definite proof that he needs the mud. It does remain to be seen how he copes when the ground is quicker, but I would not be unduly concerned. He has run his best races of late, and it just happens that the ground for those was soft or heavy. He used to make the odd mistake but is a lot better in that department now and he looks the part."

Jodami, by contrast, was once one of the safest jumpers, but the 1993 Gold Cup winner has failed to put in a clear round on his two starts this season. The desperate going at Haydock 10 days ago denied punters the chance to draw conclusions about his technique and confidence and may do so again if conditions at Leopardstown do not improve rapidly.

Jodami is still an intended runner in the Hennessy Gold Cup at the Irish track on Sunday, a race he has won for the last two years. "He is quite happy," Peter Beaumont, his trainer, said yesterday. "But the ground is a worry and I would prefer it to be like last year when they put it off for a week."

When the race goes ahead, Beaumont's chaser will face no more than eight rivals. Chatam, short-headed by Jodami in the contest two years ago, is the only other British challenger, but Merry Gale, the Gold Cup favourite only a few weeks ago, will attract more support, even though he has fallen on two of his four outings over fences this season.

Jim Dreaper, who ran Merry Gale over hurdles at Gowran Park earlier this month, said yesterday that Graham Bradley would take the reins on Sunday. Flashing Steel and Commercial Artist are also among acceptors for one of the season's most significant Cheltenham trials.

The entries for the Festival's two major novice chases were released yesterday, and prompted a rare disagreement between the major bookmakers. Gales Cavalier, trained by David Gandolfo, is the clear 4-1 favourite for the Arkle Trophy with William Hill, but Ladbrokes have more respect for the chances of both Morceli (Howard Johnson) at 7-2 and Valfinet (Martin Pipe) on 4-1. Hill's leading prices are: 4-1 Gales Cavalier, 9-2 Morceli, 11-2 Valfinet, 6-1 Klairon Davis (Ireland's leading novice), 10-1 High Baron and Idiot's Venture, 11-1 Sound Man, 14-1 Barna Boy (a runner at Nottingham today if the meeting escapes the weather), 16-1 bar.

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