Reformed Twist Magic 'right in the mix' for Champion Chase
Denman versus Kauto Star is no longer the only clash of Paul Nicholls-trained horses that will have punters arguing with each other between now and the Cheltenham Festival.
Twist Magic was a stylish and emphatic winner of the Victor Chandler Chase at Ascot yesterday and, in the words of his trainer, is "right in the mix" for the Champion Chase, for which his stablemate Master Minded is favourite.
Nicholls had said beforehand that he felt Twist Magic was in better condition, physically and mentally, than when beaten by Tamarinbleu in the same race two years ago. But this victory was needed to dispel a number of doubts that have accumulated around the chaser, who has turned in miserable efforts in the past two runnings of the Champion Chase. There now appears much less reason to question his consistency, his resolution and his ability to see out two miles in a top-class race on a stiff track.
"Everything about him is different," Nicholls said. "To be a real champion chaser, to me, he had to win today. If he didn't, that was out. He's put four great runs together now and one on a track that I think doesn't suit him, so that puts him right in the mix. Mentally, he's been right, that's the thing."
Last season, Twist Magic became so mulish that he would sometimes refuse to join the rest of the string on the gallops. Nowadays, he works on his own and appears to be a happier horse for the change in routine.
The eight-year-old is now a best price of 6-1 for the Champion Chase, while Master Minded is 7-4. But even after Twist Magic's 12-length triumph yesterday, those odds would not be so close if his stablemate were in the peak of health.
"If Master Minded is at his very best, there's not a lot that would be a match for him, but he's got to come back from problems," said Nicholls, alluding to the broken rib that was discovered at the beginning of last month. The reigning champion has continued to impress Nicholls with the pace of his recovery, including when sent up a hillside gallop three times yesterday.
"If I can, I will run him in the Game Spirit [at Newbury on February 13], just to see where we are with him, because otherwise we're going into Cheltenham in the dark and it'll be nice for his confidence for him to have a run."
Twist Magic was chased home by Nicky Henderson's Petit Robin.