Racing: Jodami ready to rejoin fray: Gold Cup winner runs on Saturday and has 45 rivals chasing his title

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The Independent Online
PETER BEAUMONT'S Christmas holiday is almost over, much to the trainer's relief. Beaumont suspended operations in early December, soon after the wretched performance of Jodami, the Gold Cup winner, in Chepstow's Rehearsal Chase, had offered evidence of a virus in his yard. At Catterick on Friday he will saddle his first runner for five weeks, cross his fingers and hope.

The limited muster at Beaumont's yard at Brandsby in Yorkshire now appears fit and ready to run. Yet the trainer knows that a race can uncover infirmities which an exercise gallop does not. Any sign of weakness in his representatives at Catterick will not augur well for Jodami, who is being prepared for a much more demanding task in the Peter Marsh Chase at Haydock the following day.

The seven potential opponents declared with the Gold Cup winner at yesterday's five- day stage include Run For Free, narrowly beaten by Jodami in the same race last year, and Zeta's Lad, who signalled that John Upson's stable may also be returning to form with a good run in the King George VI Chase on Boxing Day. King Of The Gales will arrive from Ireland, with Charlie Swan in the saddle, to test his own Gold Cup credentials, though General Pershing and Young Hustler are less likely to run. All those who do will be receiving weight from Jodami, and the race will certainly be no walkover for the convalescing champion.

Nor should it be, with the Festival only eight weeks away. After this weekend's outing, Jodami's attempt to resist Barton Bank and the rest in the Gold Cup will probably be his next race but one. 'Jodami is stronger this year, but Barton Bank is very good, without a doubt,' Beaumont said yesterday. 'If Jodami gets a good run on Saturday he'll hopefully go to Leopardstown (for Ireland's Hennessy Gold Cup) in February like he did last year.'

Barton Bank, who goes to Cheltenham without another outing, could be the Gold Cup favourite by default on Saturday night if Jodami runs poorly. Expect activity too in other ante-post markets after the Champion Hurdle Trial at the same course, and the Irish Champion Hurdle at Leopardstown the following day.

Among eight entries at Haydock is the current champion, Granville Again, who was without a win in all his outings before the Festival last year and has been following a similar pattern this term. Martin Pipe's gelding is also entered in Ireland, but Haydock appears to offer a much better chance of opening his account for the season.

Indeed, if he is to mount a serious defence of his title, Granville Again must surely beat Saturday's field. Tiananmen Square, one of several rising stars in Ireland, is more likely to go to Leopardstown, while the Champion Chase favourite, Sybillin, was just below the best over hurdles and is entered because Jimmy Fitzgerald cannot find a suitable race over fences.

As Beaumont waits to pick up the threads of his season, he can at least reflect that his tiny stable has produced a Gold Cup winner, while Martin Pipe's powerful string has not.

It is clearly a thought which occupies Pipe's mind, too. There are 46 entries for the Gold Cup and no fewer than 11 of the names published yesterday - including Run For Free, Rolling Ball, Chatam and Carvill's Hill - are under Pipe's care.

He may need to hire a box to give his pre-race jockey briefing.