Smith in Festival mode ahead of Master return
CLIVE SMITH is treating Saturday's Totesport Gold Trophy card at Newbury as the curtain-raiser for the most intense build-up to a big race that he can remember in several decades in the sport. He is looking to his two-mile star Master Minded to set the scene.
Smith, who has won fame in the racing game as Kauto Star's owner, admitted: "I'm terribly excited about it all, and the Gold Cup (March 19) should be something else. I hope Kauto comes around the home bend, just ahead of Denman, as he did last year. I may not show my emotions -- I try to keep them in check -- but inside I am really feeling it."
It is hardly surprising that the tension gets to owners, as indeed it does to their trainers and jockeys, as the most important dates on the racing calendar come around. But Smith has twice as many reasons as most to feel on edge, as he owns two of the highest-rated chasers ever to have run in these parts.
Master Minded, his dual Queen Mother Champion Chase winner, has something to prove when he returns to racing in the Game Spirit Chase at Newbury. He has been on the sidelines since mid-November when he suffered defeat in the Connaught Chase at Cheltenham.
Following much veterinary investigation, the gelding was found to have cracked a rib, which connections believe was the reason for his hanging right in that race, and also on the gallops at home. "I believe it was his 10th rib, which is situated under the saddle on the right-hand side," Smith said.
"He's been to Newmarket for examination. He now seems fine and Paul (Nicholls) is very pleased with him. He's working and jumping well, though he'll not be fully wound up on Saturday. The race should be just what he needs to get him spot on for Cheltenham," he said.
To the layman, the cracked rib is something of a mystery. Master Minded's form had tapered off a few months before the chaser started noticeably hanging badly right. In fact, although still winning, he had found it hard to show a repeat of the level of excellence he displayed in winning his first Queen Mother Champion Chase.
Despite the performances of Twist Magic, his stablemate; the Ferdy Murphy-trained Kalahari King, who was brilliant at Doncaster on Saturday, and the Irish contender Big Zeb, Master Minded remains 6/4 favourite to register a hat-trick of Queen Mother victories. If he wins well enough at the weekend, that price might be trimmed slightly, but if beaten convincingly, the betting will be thrown wide open.
"We have every hope that he'll win and be spot on for Cheltenham," Smith added. Master Minded is not the forgotten horse in the Cheltenham build-up, but he needs to show signs of his old prowess to retain his high billing at a quite exceptional Festival in prospect. (© Daily Telegraph, London)