Racing: Jodami tightens Gold Cup grip: A champion silences his doubters with a display of power and agility, leaving chasing's blue riband at his mercy

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The Independent Online
THE DOUBTS about Jodami perished in the numbing cold yesterday as Peter Beaumont's huge gelding put himself firmly on course to become only the second horse since Arkle to win successive Gold Cups at Cheltenham.

Such was the nine-year-old's crushing victory in the Hennessy Cognac Gold Cup here that he is now generally a 6-4 chance to follow up at Prestbury Park on St Patrick's Day and mirror the achievement of L'Escargot in 1971.

Yet until yesterday, there were those who thought Jodami just another transient hero. Defeat at Chepstow, and then Haydock, had exposed his fragility. But false prophets had to give way after this seven-length success and there was the embarrassing rider that he was not even fully tuned for this venture.

'That was a good performance because he'll come on quite a bit from that,' said Beaumont, who is clearly very particular about the fitness degree of his horses. 'He's blowing quite a bit now and I would say he's 85 per cent.'

Indeed, Beaumont looked an apprehensive figure before yesterday's event, his Steptoe- gloved hands nervously putting a polystyrene cup of tea to his lips. 'The ground is testing,' he said, 'there are three false patches.' Three more false patches, it transpired, than false steps taken by Jodami.

The battle plans for this encounter were never a secret. Martin Pipe's Chatam, Britain's other challenger, would be the outrider in an effort to drag the reserves from the horse who beat him in this race 12 months ago.

But, even by halfway, Chatam's partner Richard Dunwoody could feel a waning animal beneath him. 'He started making mistakes down the back because he was a beaten horse,' the champion jockey said.

Jodami, though, had plenty and once again showed that inside his brute of a body there is the nimbleness of an impala. As Chatam retreated to an eventual fourth, the only tangible rival was Flashing Steel, the property of the former Taoiseach, Charles Haughey.

Two fences out it looked as if Kevin O'Brien's mount would give Jodami a run, but then his own run came to an end with a slithering fall. There were fighting words afterwards from O'Brien. 'I was squeezing along when we fell but I still think he would have put it up to Jodami,' he said, without finding a seconder for this observation.

The real confidence belonged to Mark Dwyer, Jodami's jockey. 'My horse was loving the company all the way round and I felt I had the beating of Flashing Steel when he fell,' he said. 'He felt better than he did here last year and if he goes to Cheltenham in that sort of form he'll take a lot of beating.'

The only other horse to genuinely prove himself on song yesterday was Danoli. This meeting was supposed to generate Festival pointers, but the digit seemed to be directing away from Prestbury Park. Merry Gale (the new Arkle (No 73), and the beneficiary of an epithet that has been a fetter more than a compliment down the years) will be going to Cheltenham but not this year, after his success in the novice chase.

'He's very immature physically, very lightweight and I've no intention of going for the Sun Alliance (Chase),' Jim Dreaper, his trainer, said. 'He's had no match practice. He's not a great horse yet by any means, but he could be. There's only one race at Cheltenham we'd like to win with him and that's the Gold Cup. Next year.'

Shirley's Delight was similarly unimpressive, to the bookmakers, in victory and was knocked out to 16-1 (from 12-1) by Ladbrokes for the Triumph Hurdle, and while Danoli later showed he would be a potent challenger for the Sun Alliance Hurdle, this was a day when another horse, the one from Brandsby in Yorkshire, left the most memorable image.

(Photograph omitted)