Nicholls' focus on bigger tests ahead
Master Minded scrambled home by a short-head in the Victor Chandler Chase, but Tony McCoy found little personal redemption despite succeeding where he and Kauto Star had failed seven days earlier in the King George VI Chase.
The 4/7 favourite took his career earnings above the million-pound mark as he held off the late challenge of Somersby, but while other jockeys would have been more focused upon the result and their percentage of the prize money, the perfectionist McCoy insisted that he had ridden a bad race, telling trainer Paul Nicholls that he should have waited for longer in front rather than kicking for home off the bend.
Although Master Minded's usually prodigious jumping was less accurate at times than his supporters have come to expect, some of his leaps were still a thing of rare beauty and McCoy's decision to let his mount stride on allowed the pair to take lengths out of his rivals at some fences.
It appears increasingly improbable that Master Minded will ever recapture the imperious levels of form he produced at his peak, but a pre-season breathing operation has evidently revitalised the eight-year-old, which was maintaining his unbeaten record for the season and he remains the narrow favourite to wrest back Cheltenham's Champion Chase from Big Zeb in March.
"He looked like he was going to tank in, but in the end it was hard work," said Nicholls. "AP said to me, 'I'll tell you when I've given one a good ride and I'll tell you when it's a bad ride and that was a bad ride'. That's his words, not mine. He travelled with all of his old zest and we'll look forward to the spring."
Having insisted earlier that his team were performing as well as ever despite the statistics indicating otherwise, the trainer now seemed ready, even though he registered two winners from his 12 runners on the day, to accept that this month can often be a quiet period for the stable.
"January's not our time when we're really buzzing. In the autumn we get them fit, we work them hard so that we win races and they tend to go off a bit at this time, before we bring them back in the spring," he said. "I've had a lot of horses that haven't been running because of the weather and they're coming back in need of the run too. But Ruby [Walsh] keeps telling me not to worry about these trials because where it matters is the big races still to come."
Having ruffled a few feathers with comments attributing Kauto Star's defeat to McCoy's riding last week, owner Clive Smith extended the olive branch in putting the rider up aboard Master Minded, but still insisted that he was looking forward to having Walsh -- set to return next month from a double leg fracture -- back on board in the Gold Cup.
Reflecting upon the King George, he said: "I suppose you must say that there must have been some infection somewhere which depressed him [Kauto Star], but I didn't think he jumped too well in any case. He got too close.
"I think what I said I was slightly misconstrued. They asked me if it would have been better with Ruby on board and I know that Tony's a great jockey, a great champ and a great man, but Ruby knows the horse better than anybody. You've got to say ultimately that Ruby is his rider but that's only because he knows him so well. He'll be back and I think we might get a surprise in the Gold Cup. Just wait and see. I've already had a little bit of that 12/1."
Sunday Indo Sport