Racing: Interest drains as Bank bursts blood vessel: The Cheltenham Gold Cup takes on a one-sided look, but Elsworth's Champion Hurdle hopes are multiplying

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BARTON BANK, the King George VI Chase winner, will miss the Gold Cup at Cheltenham a week today. David Nicholson's chaser broke a blood vessel during routine work yesterday morning, the second time in his career that he has done so.

The scratching of Barton Bank is a serious setback not only to his connections and supporters but to bookmakers' hopes of a competitive race that would maximise betting turnover. His Gold Cup odds of 6-1 second favourite - behind Jodami, the defending champion - had considerable each- way appeal. None of Jodami's remaining rivals can stand comparison with Barton Bank for class and consistency, while on the other side of the window, the layers are now looking at a one-horse book on the year's most prestigious chase.

Odds of 11-10 (with Ladbrokes) are the best available about Jodami this morning, but he is as short as 10-11 with William Hill. Arkle was the last odds-on winner, starting at 30-100 and 1-10 in 1965 and 1966, while Pendil finished second when a 4-6 shot in 1973 and Desert Orchid third at 10-11 in 1990.

Enthusiasts without a financial interest will feel Barton Bank's absence too. Only he could have claimed the status of undisputed champion chaser by beating Jodami. In the now unlikely event that Peter Beaumont's gelding is beaten next week, the winner will be at the very least inconsistent or, more disturbingly, in decline.

David Nicholson took little comfort from the strength in depth of his Festival challenge yesterday, and clearly felt that Barton Bank would have run the Gold Cup favourite very close. 'He was in tip-top form,' Nicholson said. 'Charter Party's victory (in the 1988 Gold Cup) was a surprise, but this horse was in great form and had a great chance. He had everything going for him.

'I have no idea whether he will run again this season, I haven't even thought about it. He broke a blood vessel in the Sun Alliance Chase last year. Horses do this, I just wish I knew why.'

Barton Bank's mishap also leaves Adrian Maguire, the season's leading jockey, searching for a Gold Cup ride. His talents are unlikely to go to waste, however, and he may well find employment with Martin Pipe's (numerically) strong entry.

The odds against Jodami shortened still further soon afterwards when it was announced that Flashing Steel, in whom Irish punters have invested both hope and hard cash, is also a doubtful runner. Flashing Steel was matching strides with Jodami when falling at the second last in last month's Hennessy Gold Cup at Leopardstown, but John Mulhern, his trainer, disclosed yesterday that a virus is spreading through his string.

'We have the cough and runny noses and there is no guarantee that the horse will run,' Mulhern said. 'The cough is like the tide, once it starts to come in it keeps coming and it is only a matter of a day or two before Flashing Steel has it.

'This is ill-timed and unfortunate, but the worst thing is he may show no signs of it. I will postpone sending him over until Tuesday to see if it develops. I can't say if he will make it or not, but I doubt it.'

When the ante-post Gold Cup market finally settled down, Coral's revised book showed just how thin the opposition to Jodami has become. The firm shows: evens Jodami, 11-2 The Fellow, 7-1 Bradbury Star, 12-1 Run For Free, 20-1 others.

There was positive news, at least, of Bradbury Star, who was narrowly beaten by Barton Bank in the King George. 'He did a nice piece of work yesterday and he will have his final spin on Saturday,' Josh Gifford, his trainer, said. 'I'm very pleased with him, but I only hope the ground doesn't get too soft.'

Good vibrations too from David Elsworth's gallops at Whitcombe Manor, where the trainer watched his three possible runners in the Champion Hurdle, Oh So Risky, Muse and Absalom's Lady, enjoy a gentle canter. 'Things are going fine,' he said. 'The plan is certainly to run the two (Oh So Risky and Muse) and it's increasingly likely that all three will run. But one doesn't have to make plans in this business, you can dither as long as you like.'

Nor is the trainer tapping anxiously at his barometer. 'Anything from heavy to hard will be fine, all the horses will cope with the ground whatever it is,' Elsworth said.

Such satisfaction is rare so close to a major race. Rare, and probably significant.

(Photograph omitted)