Riches need not be an embarrassment, as Nicky Henderson knows. On the day jump racing emerged from its shutdown, the Lambourn-based trainer added to his stable's formidable armoury in the novice chase division when Mad Max made a most satisfactory start to his career over fences. The giant eight-year-old, 5-6 favourite for the Novices' Chase, put himself right into the Cheltenham equation with a near-perfect display of jumping under Barry Geraghty and some eye-catching changes of gear on ground rendered testing as rain followed melting snow.
Mad Max was sometimes clumsy over hurdles last season but, as Henderson knew they would, the larger obstacles suit him well. His sole error came two out but he dealt with it gratifyingly nimbly for such a massive individual and made up for it at the last, when a splendid leap took two lengths out of the only one of his rivals still in contention, Mahonia. The pair had already left the other three for dead in the back straight and Mad Max quickened again on the run-in to surge nearly five lengths clear.
Henderson confirmed afterwards that the Kayf Tara gelding's target in March would be the Arkle Trophy over yesterday's two-mile trip. "He has all the pace in the world," he said, "and wouldn't want to be going further. He really is the most ridiculous size and hardly noticed hurdles, they just got in his way. He treats fences with more respect. He was a bit strong early but that was just his exuberance."
Mad Max has an engine to match his chassis, but his carburettor has needed some tinkering. Every milli- metre of clear airway counts in getting oxygen to his lungs and he has now had four surgical procedures on his larynx and palate. The only rattle yesterday came when the pressure was off, as he throttled back pulling up.
Mad Max is 20-1 for the Arkle. His more experienced stablemate Riverside Theatre is 12-1, behind the Irish favourites Captain Cee Bee and Sizing Europe. Henderson, though, dominates the betting for the three-mile RSA Chase, with Punchestowns and Long Run. The last-named's victory on Boxing Day was boosted yesterday when his 13-length victim Tazbar cruised home at Huntingdon.
The depth of this season's young chasing talent prompted Andy Turnell to put on hold the career over fences of his best prospect, Micheal Flips, and the tactic found reward in the form of yesterday's most valuable contest, the Lanzarote Hurdle. Ridden by Nick Scholfield, the six-year-old saw out the two miles and five furlongs with a will to take the £18,786 handicap by eight lengths at 9-1, thwarting a gamble on the Henderson-trained top-weight, Duc De Regniere.
"He'll go over fences next year," said Wiltshire-based Turnell of the gelding, who shares his sire with Mad Max, "and I see him as an Arkle horse. But this year's race looks like the hottest for about 100 years so I decided to stick to hurdles for another season."