Jodami is big. Jodami is late-maturing, and Jodami is emphatically not from the lineage of scraggy ex-Flat racers who dominate hurdle racing these days. When he takes another stride towards the Gold Cup in this afternoon's Mandarin Chase at Newbury, expect rival trainers of the old steeplechasing school to be hanging covetously over the running rails remembering the great winter academies of Fred Rimell and Fulke Walwyn, who, fittingly enough, trained the horse who lends his name to today's race.
There are trainers who would sell their children to get hold of a chaser with this much potential, and in fact, when a survey was conducted at the beginning of last season, a majority of the profession's leading practitioners nominated Jodami as the horse they would most like to acquire. In his two runs so far this season he has done nothing to invalidate that widespread jealousy, and from a position of 8-1 in the Gold Cup betting is perfectly placed today to extend his reputation.
The key to Jodami's arrival in the front rank of Gold Cup candidates has been the elimination of jumping errors together with a training programme that has paid due respect to his potential for steady, rather than spectacular, improvement. Granted, on the form of his second placing behind Sibton Abbey in the Hennessy Gold Cup on this course five weeks ago, Jodami must make further progress before he can threaten The Fellow's title as favourite for the Gold Cup, but given his age, and genetic and physical composition, he is almost certain to be making substantial headway ahead of the Cheltenham Festival in March.
'He has got an awful lot going for him,' Mark Dwyer, the jockey who has done much to improve Jodami's prowess and concentration, said yesterday. 'He's a great big chasing type of horse. He's a great traveller in a race, with a lot of pace, and given his size I shouldn't think the 12st (Jodami's racing weight this afternoon) would bother him too much. Before I started riding him in races at the start of this season I'd schooled him at home, and I couldn't help but like him. I think he's very good.'
Nobody ever got rich tapping the optimism of jockeys, but Dwyer is not renowned for offering fatuous praise simply to please an audience. There is less incentive to be gushing in jump racing, because most of the runners have had the possibility of a stud career eye-wateringly removed by a pair of shears, and so there is less financial incentive to inflate a horses's value, unless, of course, the thing is up for sale.
If the last few seasons are any guide then the Mandarin could provide as much evidence about the Grand National as the Gold Cup because Maori Venture and Party Politics are both on the scroll of winners. That is certainly Kildimo's long-range target, but more than him, Dwyer points to Country Member as the biggest obstacle Jodami must surmount today.
The sight of a traditional steeplechaser making his hulking rounds through Berkshire turf (another log on that fire, please) is not Newbury's only attraction. The Hungerford Chase could easily be held- over for the Festival, bringing together as it does Mutare, another potential Gold Cup contender, Another Coral, winner of the Tripleprint (ex-A F Budge) Gold Cup, the infamous Golden Freeze, Redundant Pal, and the estimable Sabin Du Loir, who, despite being 14 years old, has been produced for a further season's racing by the Martin Pipe stable.
However the old favourite Sabin Du Loir performs, Pipe should see one member of his Festival team confirm his place when Lord Relic contests the pounds 25,000 Challow Hurdle, which has a curiously Antipodean feel. Lord Relic won seven races on the Flat in New Zealand - and is definitely considered 'Cheltenham material' by his trainer - while his chief rival, Glen Lochan, is a veteran of no less than 53 such events in Australia.
Scrutineer, who makes his debut in the Wickham Novice Hurdle, was less busy on the Flat for the John Gosden stable in 1992, but still proved himself to be a capable handicapper. He had attracted admiring looks from David Nicholson long before Sheikh Mohammed's team of advisors asked him to train the horse over hurdles.
This time, covetous glances secured the prize.
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