Mad Max revved up to steal Master's thunder

They have taken turns to submit meekly while the other claims the crown, so a vintage race would seem guaranteed today if both Master Minded and Big Zeb finally square up like they mean it. Between them, after all, they have won the last three runnings of the Sportingbet Queen Mother Champion Chase, and the bookmakers believe they will once again dominate. It is possible, however, that this field will prove deeper than those weakened by their respective failures over the past two years.

Some who rode against him that day will tell you that Master Minded's performance in 2008 was the most devastating by any steeplechaser of recent times. By that reckoning, the mighty Kauto Star is not even the best horse owned by Clive Smith, never mind the best since Arkle. As a result, of course, Master Minded tends to be judged against a fairly unsparing standard, and you will hear it said that he has not always exuded quite the same aura since. He followed up readily enough in 2009 – Big Zeb was just organising a challenge when falling two out – but was evidently not himself when only fourth at odds-on last year. Big Zeb, having gone with gusto throughout, took full advantage.

Like so many horses trained by Paul Nicholls, Master Minded was then given a wind operation and he produced an exuberant exhibition on his return at Ascot in November. He again outclassed his rivals here in December, but could only scramble home from Somersby back at Ascot last time. His jockey then, Tony McCoy, reproached himself for committing too soon that day, and Nicholls certainly seems pretty confident, identifying Master Minded as his best chance all week.

Big Zeb also failed to show authority in his trial, collared by Golden Silver after going clear at Punchestown, but there was a similar sense that the result should not be taken too literally. He idled in front in testing ground, and conditions will be very different today. Of the two, indeed, Master Minded will probably prove less at home with drying conditions today.

Of the pair who discomfited the two big guns last time out, Golden Silver has disappointed on both previous visits here, while Somersby looks desperate for a step up in trip. Woolcombe Folly, meanwhile, is on the upgrade but looks poor value compared with two previous Festival winners in Captain Cee Bee and Sizing Europe. The former is, admittedly, prone to the odd tame run, while the latter needs to regroup after an unfulfilling campaign. At 33-1, however, it may be worth taking an each-way chance with Mad Max (3.20).

Mad may seem the apposite word, given that he was trounced 20 lengths behind Master Minded and Somersby at Ascot. But he has a long history of breathing problems and his trainer has now taken radical action, getting his windpipe "tubed". Mad Max was a big price in the novice championship here last year, as well, but was still tanking in the lead when brought to a shuddering halt by a mistake two out. He then beat Somersby by nine lengths at Aintree, prompting most people to conclude that the runner-up was not quite at his best. But Mad Max has repeatedly hinted at an engine commensurate with his intimidating physique. That engine can misfire, demonstrably, and there is an obvious risk of him blowing out altogether. If the mechanics have sorted him out, however, he could end up looking a huge price.

Another horse with the talent to overcome an unpromising preparation is Mikael d'Haguenet, but it surely requires too great a leap of faith for him to come good over fences in a race as demanding as the RSA Chase. So while Time For Rupert (2.40) would ideally have had another run, he has been impeccable in the two chases he has contested, both round here, and is the class act.

However they fare with Mikael d'Haguenet, Willie Mullins and Ruby Walsh have a novice going places in another discipline in So Young. There is much excitement in Ireland about his preparation for the Neptune Investment Management Novices' Hurdle, but such experience as he has gained is all in undemanding company on soft ground, and his jumping will have to hold up against horses with runs on the board. These include Oscars Well, more accomplished on form but potentially vulnerable in these quicker conditions, but the outstanding value is Megastar (2.05 nap). He, conversely, has been struggling in muddling races on midwinter going, but ran a stormer in the bumper here last year and could make dramatic improvement now that he steps up in trip on spring ground.

The handicaps look hopelessly competitive, but Mullins has two interesting candidates for the Coral Cup and there is less between them than the odds imply. Useful on the Flat, Ballyhaunis (4.00 next best) met a smart novice in a steadily run race last time, but is unexposed at this kind of trip on good ground.

By all accounts the Irish have also got one lined up for the Fred Winter in Plan A (4.40), and they will be very hard to stop in the opener, too. But Jonjo O'Neill has a fine record in this and it is intriguing to see the progressive Aberdale (1.30) come here fresh from a winter off. The Weatherbys Champion Bumper is very much an Irish speciality, and Divine Rhapsody (5.30) has been given a nerveless, 11-month preparation.

Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch has refused to deny his involvement in the upcoming new Star Wars film
filmBenedict Cumberbatch reignites those Star Wars rumours
News
Russell Brand has written a book of political analysis called Revolution
peopleFilm star says he is 'not interested in making money anymore'
News
newsMcKamey Manor says 'there is no escape until the tour is completed'
News
people

Britain First criticised for using actress's memory to draw attention to their 'hate-filled home page'

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
JK Rowling is releasing a new Harry Potter story about Dolores Umbridge
booksChristmas comes early for wizard fans
News
news

Emergency call 'started off dumb, but got pretty serious'

Arts and Entertainment
On The Apprentice, “serious” left the room many moons ago and yet still we watch
tv

Greatest mystery about the hit BBC1 show is how it continues to be made at all, writes Grace Dent

News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
filmsOculus Rift offers breathtakingly realistic simulation of zero gravity
News
news
News
peopleCampaign 'to help protect young people across the world'
Sport
footballAccording to revelations from Sergio Aguero's new biography
Life and Style
tech

News
people'When I see people who look totally different, it brings me back to that time in my life'
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from David Ayer's 'Fury'
film

"History is violent," says the US Army tank commander Don "Wardaddy" Collier

Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Business Analyst - Surrey - Permanent - Up to £50k DOE

£40000 - £50000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***ASP.NET Developer - Cheshire - £35k - Permanent***

£30000 - £35000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***Solutions Architect*** - Brighton - £40k - Permanent

£35000 - £40000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

Senior Research Fellow in Gender, Food and Resilient Communities

£47,334 - £59,058 per annum: Coventry University: The Centre for Agroecology, ...

Day In a Page

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker