Racing: Beaumont lays defence foundations: Northern lights head the ante-post market as Jodami sets out towards a second Gold Cup success. Richard Edmondson reports

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The Independent Online
ZAFONIC has gone and many dilettantes from the Flat will have joined him by the end of the season, but elsewhere the iron horses are back. The 1993-94 National Hunt season is now almost a week old, as is the return to training of jump racing's most powerful performer, the Gold Cup winner, Jodami.

After a summer break near Harrogate with his owner, the retired businessman John Yeadon, the eight-year- old is back at base in the north Yorkshire village of Brandsby, under the tutelage of Peter Beaumont.

A rewind to 12 months ago would see Jodami in a very different position to today's, that of one of several pretenders to chasing's throne. However, with the Blue Riband now in the locker, the gelding is now clear favourite to retain his crown at the foot of Prestbury Hill in March.

It is a peculiarity of this season that the campaign opens with the Gold Cup market dominated by two horses trained north of the Ouse, Jodami and the gelding Beaumont sees as the greatest threat to his authority, Mary Reveley's Cab On Target.

Others in the lists carry elements to discourage early support. The Fellow, twice a short-head second in the race and a beaten favourite last season, has had more chances than most horses get in the race; the returning Remittance Man must prove both that he truly stays the distance of the Gold Cup and has recovered from a leg injury; Carvill's Hill, who has been out for even longer, has to show his buffeting experience in the Gold Cup of 1992 has not dulled him either mentally or physically.

Carvill's Hill, though, like Jodami, will not fail for lack of size. These are horses which would could have been models for Greek carpenters as they fashioned a method to breach Troy's gates.

Jodami looked an even more striking figure this week after he returned from his off-season repose, which was filled with little more than eating and sleeping. 'You need them to put some weight on and he does get pretty big in the summer,' Beaumont said yesterday. 'He's a quiet sort and does himself well but I don't think he's quite as big as he was last year. He's nicely over 600 kilos, and he's got quite a lot to lose because he needs to get under 600 before he runs.'

The folds of flesh are already being attended to in walks on the roads and bridleways near Beaumount's Foulrice Farm yard on the fringe of the Howardian Hills. 'He'll walk for a month and then just start doing a bit more, cantering after six weeks and just gradually working up,' Beaumont said. 'There's no rush because I don't want him to run in September or anything.'

Jodami's first stopping-off point may come in Wetherby's Charlie Hall Chase at the end of October, though inscriptions in the horse's programme book have yet to get past the pencil stage. 'Obviously the limited handicaps with only a stone range are more attractive than an ordinary handicap,' Beaumont said. 'We are a bit more restricted this year.'

One event that carries less kudos at Foulrice than elsewhere is the King George VI Chase at Kempton. 'I'm not fussed about that,' Beaumont said, 'and there's a good race at Wetherby on Boxing Day (the Rowland Meyrick Handicap Chase).'

The graveyard race for Cheltenham (until last year at least), Leopardstown's Hennessy Cognac Gold Cup, is again on the agenda, and is not the only area where Beaumont would like to see repetition. Last year was a remarkable one for Jodami, both on and off the racecourse, as the gelding swept through the heavy-casualty winter months without mishap on the track or at home.

'We were fortunate last season in that everything just worked out for us,' Beaumont said. 'We weren't held up here much and everything came right. All we can do is keep our fingers crossed and hope it all goes the same again.'

If Jodami's good fortune and constitution hold up this term he is going to prove difficult to subdue. The horse's form last season suggested he was advancing steeply and Beaumont believes the peak has yet to be reached. 'I think he's been improving all along,' he said. 'I think he'll be stronger and even better this season.'

(Photograph omitted)