Money pours on unbeaten Balanak

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The Independent Online
A fortnight before the Triumph Hurdle and five days after his impressive win at Kempton, everybody seemed to want to back Balanak for the juvenile hurdling championship yesterday, writes John Cobb.

David Gandolfo's gelding, unbeaten in three starts over hurdles since joining the Wantage trainer from John Oxx in Ireland, is now clear favourite at 7-2 with Ladbrokes for Cheltenham's opening race on Gold Cup day.

"We've cut Balanak from 5s to 4-1," Ladbrokes' spokesman, Ian Wassell, said. "But continued support has forced us to reduce our quote again to 7-2. It looks like the Johnny-come-latelys are falling over themselves to get on."

Short-sightedness probably accounts for them falling over themselves. Anyone risking hard currency at such skinny odds on a race in which the most common starting price for winners during the last 15 years is 66- 1 needs medical attention.

The weights for the handicaps at the Festival appeared on Wednesday and after a night to study the figures for the Coral Cup it was Chief Minister, trained by Tom Dyer on Tayside, who proved most popular among insomniacs with form books.

A favourable bulletin from his trainer gave backers the hint and Ladbrokes were forced to cut the six-year-old's odds from 16-1 to 12-1. Derrymoyle remains the firm's 10-1 clear favourite for the two miles and five furlongs race.

On the Gold Cup front, the best backed horse yesterday was another Saturday scorer, Val D'Alene, cut to 10-1 from 12-1 by Ladbrokes. However, the most significant piece of news is that Jodami is to stretch his ample frame in a gallop after racing at Doncaster tomorrow.

The 1993 Gold Cup winner is a stoutly built individual who is not easily honed to fitness on the gallops. Tomorrow's workout should bring him to his peak and increase confidence that he can improve on last year's second placing to The Fellow.

Runners during the next few days can expect some considerate handling from their jockeys as a ban incurred now could rule a rider out of the Festival. Norman Williamson, who last year was forced on to the sidelines at Prestbury Park by a misdemeanour on the equivalent of Doncaster's Saturday's card, picked up a ban on Wednesday but will be back just in time for Cheltenham, while yesterday it was the turn of Jamie Railton and Richard Guest to flirt with danger. The two riders were banned for two days (11 and 13 March) up to the eve of the Festival for misuse of the whip on runners at Leicester.