Racing: Zeta's can upstage Star's rehearsal: The postponement of Ireland's top chase has turned the spotlight on Festival fancies at home

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The Independent Online
AN IRISH clerk of the course might describe the stickier parts of Dartmoor as good with soft patches, so the omens were not good for Leopardstown's big meeting tomorrow when rain turned the going officially heavy as early as Thursday night. Sure enough, the track failed an inspection yesterday afternoon and the Hennessy Gold Cup, Jodami's prep race for his defence of the Cheltenham Gold Cup, has been postponed to next Sunday.

Peter Beaumont, Jodami's trainer, was untroubled by the news. 'If they had run this weekend it would have been a week earlier than last year (when Jodami beat Chatam by a head),' he said yesterday, 'so next weekend would be the same gap to Cheltenham.'

It is a minor setback compared with Beaumont's recent two-month spell without a winner when a virus gripped his yard, and Jodami appears to be reaching his peak at the ideal moment. 'He ran a good race at Haydock (in the Peter Marsh Chase) and he's improved since then.' Since Jodami came out best at the weights that day, he will be the horse to beat wherever he next runs.

In the absence of the Gold Cup favourite, the weekend's most interesting runner is Bradbury Star, unraced since his close second to Barton Bank in the King George VI Chase on Boxing Day. One of only three horses currently at single-figure odds for the Gold Cup, Bradbury Star will more than justify that position if he can carry top weight to victory in the Agfa Diamond Chase at Sandown.

Yet after a 40-day absence, there would be no shame in failing to give almost a stone to Zeta's Lad (2.30). He is about the only healthy horse in John Upson's yard but continues to run well, and his last-moment style of winning has ensured that his handicap mark remains fair despite six victories, and several gallant failures, in the last 14 months.

The Sandown card is also the last - for the moment at least - through which Adrian Maguire must sit and suffer as Richard Dunwoody chips away at his lead in the jockeys' championship. Maguire's six-day whip ban expires tomorrow, but by then Dunwoody may be within touching distance. The reigning champion cut the deficit to nine yesterday with a Lingfield four-timer and was trimmed to 1-2 by Ladbrokes to retain his title, with Maguire extended to 6-4.

Dunwoody will be anticipating a double, at least, this afternoon and it will compound Maguire's disappointment that three of Dunwoody's full book of seven rides are provided by David Nicholson, Maguire's principal employer. Baydon Star now seems exposed and may not cope with Bas De Laine (1.20), but Wonder Man (3.40) can add to Dunwoody's banker of the day, Devils Den (12.50), who could consolidate his position as Martin Pipe's main hope for the Triumph Hurdle.

Muse (3.05) should not struggle to take the Agfa Hurdle, but Meditator, his older brother - they are both products of High Line and the mare Thoughtful - faces a difficult task against JEASSU (nap 1.55) in the handicap hurdle. Jim Wilson has regularly aimed horses at this event and Jeassu, who will be ideally suited by the going and trip, is the outstanding bet on the card.

The weights for this race have been compressed by the presence of Sweet Duke, prompting the connections of Northants (2.40) to divert their horse to Wetherby's excellent, though untelevised, card. He can beat Cab On Target, who returns to hurdles after an absence through injury, while Hawthorn Blaze (3.15) can land the Marston Moor Chase on his seasonal debut.

Chepstow's programme is longer on numbers than strength, but Crank Shaft (1.30) may be worth a minor interest at decent odds in the stayers' novice hurdle. The Grand National Trial should come down to the ability of Riverside Boy (2.00) to give 16lb to Into The Red. The form book suggests he will.

(Photograph omitted)

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