‘Plasterer’ primed to take advantage if Master Minded fails to fire
Odds-on again for the Queen Mother Champion Chase, Master Minded attempts to confirm his status as the best two-mile 'chaser of the current crop by completing a rare hat-trick in this afternoon's festival showpiece.
Not since Badsworth Boy lorded it over the rest in this specialist event for the third year on the trot in 1985 has such a treble strike been achieved and those closest to this French-bred won't countenance defeat today.
The seven-year-old simply ran right away from the opposition two years ago in the Seasons Holidays promotion but was far less imperious when getting the better of veteran Well Chief 12 months ago.
Master Minded got the fright of his life subsequently in the Punchestown equivalent when pushed to the limit to contain Big Zeb, a faller in last year's renewal here and yet to convince on English soil.
The Paul Nicholls' star blotted his copybook over this route on his seasonal return when Well Chief gained his revenge, but was then diagnosed with a rib injury and has since overcome an alarming final-fence Newbury blunder to restore the confidence of both his handler and regular pilot Ruby Walsh.
However a niggling doubt remains as to whether this renowned trail-blazer could turn out to be the weakest link in the celebrated Nicholls-Walsh triumvirate inclusive also of fellow hotpots Big Buck's and Kauto Star.
A mere eight rivals, including in-form stable companion Twist Magic which, however, has yet to convince around Cheltenham, stand between this formidable market leader and an undisputed place in the record books.
This second session of the 2010 gathering isn't all about the Champion Chase, exciting as it invariably turns out, with the Neptune Novices Hurdle, RSA Chase and Weatherbys Champion Bumper listed too.
These races for the upcoming stars in the sport have proved a happy hunting ground for our champion trainer Willie Mullins, often with Ruby Walsh's expert assistance, and the Closutton handler is back for more now.
Perhaps the Neptune Novices Hurdle for which one of Willie's prime fancies this year, Quel Esprit, has attracted plenty of money in the past week or so in opposition to Rite Of Passage, represents his best chance on this card.
The latter's internationally famous trainer Dermot Weld could likewise have an ace up his sleeve in the Champion Bumper with both Elegant Concorde and Hidden Universe looking major players as the many Irish runners seek our 15th triumph in 18 renewals of this Wednesday finale.
The focus of intense scrutiny yet again before and during the race will be the free-going Master Minded whose catch-me-if-you-can tactic has seen him reign supreme here for the past two seasons.
When on song the gelding is a hard act to reel in and so far he's tended to dominate this division, though it will be fascinating to watch last year's Irish Independent Arkle Trophy principals Forpadydeplasterer and Kalahari King trying to succeed where Well Chief and Big Zeb failed in the recent past.
Good ground will be a help to both Forpadydeplasterer, just recovered in the nick of time from minor training setbacks, and impressive Doncaster victor Kalahari King as they lock horns with the reigning title-holder.
If the real Master Minded turns up once more it may be game over for the other eight runners, including stablemate Twist Magic which seldom sparkles at this venue. At the current cramped odds the favourite might be a rather risky proposition so a modest flutter on one of the others is advised.
Verdict -- Forpadydeplasterer rates as a sporting bet.
The improving Citizen Vic is on duty here instead of the injured Uimhiraceathair for Willie Mullins, who has such a fine record in this contest, most recently a year ago when Cooldine romped to victory.
Weapon's Amnesty however looks the main Irish-based challenger to Nicky Henderson's market principals Long Run and Punchestowns as he landed the Albert Bartlett Novice Hurdle here 12 months ago when his stamina came very much into play over this testing circuit.
The costly French imports Long Run and Punchestowns will be tough nuts to crack though as the former has plenty of pace, even if he's not bombproof over the larger obstacles, and Punchestowns, having pushed Big Buck's hard in the 2009 World Hurdle, seems to have taken well to his new role.
Burton Port backs up the Henderson duo and is a decent performer in his own right while Diamond Harry may not be as effective at this level.
Verdict -- Weapon's Amnesty (each-way).
Well backed in recent days, Quel Esprit, which was fourth in last year's bumper to Dunguib -- a big failure in yesterday's Spinal Research Supreme Novices Hurdle -- attempts to follow up successive victories by Fiveforthree and Mikael D'Haguenet from the Willie Mullins yard.
Narrowly foiled by the smart Coole River at Leopardstown last time out, this powerful sort which had starred previously as a jumper will be happier on this drier ground and should go well.
Rite Of Passage, only third when backed as if defeat were out of the question behind Dunguib in the same event here, has dominated the ante-post wagering on the strength of two easy hurdles wins against inferior rivals.
Finian's Rainbow, Reve de Sivola, Peddlers Cross and The Knoxs are fancied to make the visiting contingent work for the prize in what appears to be a high-class renewal of this true test of speed and stamina.
Verdict -- Quel Esprit (nap) will do for me.
A relatively low-key opening race that features our most successful point-to-point rider of all time, Derek O'Connor, trying to get on the festival scoreboard belatedly with the help of the promising Any Currency.
Friday's Gold Cup outsider Tricky Trickster, one of the favourites for the Grand National, was the winner last year before he was acquired by the Paul Nicholls stable that's represented here by Massasoit.
Pettifour from the former Tricky Trickster stable and veteran Far More Serious should not be under-estimated, but the local Jonjo O'Neill stable could have the solution yet again in this marathon with the younger Synchronised.
Verdict -- Synchronised fits the bill.
Ante-post gamble Morad has met with a setback and that leaves the versatile Deutschland to run for Willie Mullins as Chicago Grey, which foiled Mourad at Thurles before Christmas, is left to shoulder top weight.
Dangers abound in this ultra-competitive handicap and Henderson has four runners, best of whom could be the novice Quantitativeeasing, but Silk Affair which won here a year ago looks to have a decent mark.
Verdict -- Silk Affair might oblige again.
A typically trappy affair to which those first-season jumpers that weren't considered Triumph Hurdle material have been rerouted and it's anyone's guess how the race will pan out on this drier ground.
David Pipe's hat-trick seeker Notus De La Tour and Sanctuaire, winner of his only race since joining the Paul Nicholls team, are French imports that have been popular with ante-post punters lately.
Hunterview is another Pipe hopeful that will be expected to make his mark along with the undefeated Bothy and Tom Cooper's easy Navan scorer Son Amix.
Verdict -- Sanctuaire could be the one.
Something of a cavalry charge for the race that has proved of particular benefit to the Irish representatives since its introduction and many observers expect the visitors to prove too good for the local talent once more.
Dermot Weld sets a real poser by running both of his impressive Leopardstown winners Elegant Concorde and the year-younger Hidden Universe whose weight concession might just be offset by his lack of experience.
For once, Willie Mullins is not the number one choice of punters to make it seven bumper wins with Day Of A Lifetime reputedly his best prospect this time, but the money has poured in for James Lambe's Drumbaloo whose point-to-point debut success has been followed by three more on the flat.
The ex-Irish Al Ferof with Ruby Walsh aboard is likely to attract support though he might prefer a softer surface.
In contrast, Shot From The Hip, so impressive recently at Leopardstown, won't mind the going at all.
Verdict -- Drumbaloo for me.