Racing: Jodami flop blurs Festival picture: Long-range bets on leading Cheltenham fancies seem way off target after Saturday's surprises

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The Independent Online
AS THE last-minute backers, who have waited an anxious 10 minutes for an extra half-point, dash to the window and fight to get on the moment the tape goes up, it is easy to stand in a betting shop and chuckle quietly. After Saturday's events, for those who go to the other extreme and bet long range, it is not nearly as easy as it was.

Anyone who christened the National Hunt season with a bet on Jodami or Cab On Target for the Gold Cup will have spent Saturday evening in a darkened room (anyone who backed both is still there). Jodami, only third to Party Politics and Riverside Boy at Chepstow, is drifting in the ante-post market; Cab On Target, beaten 20 lengths behind Barton Bank at Sandown after an awkward jump at the second, is no longer even quoted.

It was a bad afternoon for chasing - still more so for the North, where both flops are trained - compounded by the mystery which shrouded Jodami. Armchair viewers probably concluded that the 2-7 favourite, was going well enough for Mark Dwyer until a bad mistake at the third last knocked the fight out of him. Others, though, had sensed trouble much earlier. Chris Pimlott, Dwyer's agent, said yesterday: 'If you watch Mark closely you see that one of his distress signals is to pull his goggles down, and he pulled them down very early.'

Dwyer said that he was concerned almost from the moment he slipped into the irons. 'I didn't feel easy going to the start and in the race he was labouring in the soft ground. Coming back to the enclosure, I almost had to get off him.'

From there, it was but a skip and a jump in many minds to an image of a masked man with a syringe and a swag bag full of their money. But while the stewards ordered a routine dope test on Jodami, routine is very much the operative word. Even after several proven cases of doping and a credible television investigation of others which went undetected, racecourse security may still be less than perfect, but a doper would need to be on tranquillisers himself before attempting to nobble the Gold Cup winner.

More likely to come back positive are the blood tests, currently being processed, which Peter Beaumont, Jodami's trainer, believes will show evidence of an infection. As he pointed out yesterday: 'there were three or four horses from different trainers which ran badly on Saturday.'

Another positive sign is that Jodami did not burst a blood vessel (if they do it once, they tend to do it again), and though he 'must be doubtful for the King George (at Kempton on 27 December), long term there shouldn't be a problem'.

There will be blood tests too for Cab On Target, though Mary Reveley, his trainer, clearly believes that his problem is more fundamental than Jodami's. 'He won't run in the King George unless his owners insist, and he won't even be entered for the Gold Cup,' she said yesterday.

Cab On Target's obvious distress in the Ewell Chase overshadowed an accomplished performance by Barton Bank, but the bookmakers, as ever, were wide awake. David Nicholson's second-season chaser started the campaign a 40-1 chance for the Gold Cup, but now takes over from Cab On Target as clear second- favourite to Jodami (8-1 is the best price on offer).

He is even shorter for the King George, which will be his next assignment. Hills offer Jodami at 9-4 with a run for Kempton, with Barton Bank and The Fellow at 5-2, Bradbury Star on 9-2, Black Humour at 8-1, and 12-1 bar.

With The Fellow having won the race twice already, this is high praise for Barton Bank, but championship contests are very different to handicaps or matches. In the last top race he contested, the Sun Alliance Chase at the Festival in March, Barton Bank started favourite but was pulled up after breaking a blood vessel. Punters who mutter 'I'm not backing that bleeder' are probably being clever, not crude.

That said, an inability to fence cleanly at speed did not stop Carvill's Hill starting favourite for the 1992 Gold Cup. He has not raced since finishing a broken, hobbling last that day, but after the weekend's mishaps he is suddenly 10-1 third favourite for this season's renewal.

There could be few clearer signs that we would have very little to look forward to without Jodami.

(Photograph omitted)

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