Racing: Friend drifts by travelling

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THE OPPORTUNISM of Mark Tompkins in sending Staunch Friend in search of the pounds 44,000 on offer in the Gran Corsa di Siepi di Roma at the Capannelle on Saturday has gone unrewarded. The five-year-old, ridden by Steve Smith Eccles, failed to adapt to Italian hurdles and trailed in last of seven finishers, 27 lengths behind the French-trained winner, Dradj.

Given that excuse and the assertion by Tompkins that Staunch Friend is of comparable ability to the Champion Hurdle 9-2 second-favourite, Halkopous, there may be some value in his revised prices for Cheltenham - 16-1 from 10-1 with Ladbrokes and Coral, 14-1 from 11-1 with William Hill.

Coulton failed to make much impression in Haydock's trial for the premier hurdling event but was nevertheless trimmed to a best-priced 16-1, from 20-1, by Coral and Hills. Lack of fitness, in what was effectively Coulton's first run of the season, may have been the deciding factor as he failed to hold a renewed challenge by Jinxy Jack. The latter, quoted at 33-1 by Ladbrokes, is far from certain to run at Cheltenham.

Confidently on the road to Prestbury Park is Jodami and yesterday his trainer, Peter Beaumont, predicted that there is more improvement to come from his Gold Cup contender, who won Saturday's Peter Marsh Chase by two lengths from Run For Free.

'He did his job very nicely and it was easier than it looked,' Beaumont said. 'Mark (Dwyer) never asked him a serious question until halfway up the run-in.'

As is often the case, the trainer's translation of his horse's ability into Gold Cup odds was at variance with that of the bookies. Ladbrokes cut Jodami's price to 5-1 joint second favourite with Rushing Wild, and eased The Fellow to 5-2. 'Odds of 5-1 are a bit short at this stage,' Beaumont believes. 'I think around 7-1 would be a fairer reflection.' Jodami remains at that price with Coral, for now.

George Duffield rides Taciturn at Southwell today after a six-week, 30-mount, four-winner stint in Trinidad.

Lingfield's inspection yesterday found the course fit for racing. However, due to the variable weather, there will be a 'precautionary' inspection at 7.30am.