Master in charge of Walsh's Champion plan

This could be one of those occasions when you can't see the trees for the wood. The showdown between Kauto Star and Denman, three weeks tomorrow, so dominates the Cheltenham agenda this year that it would be easy to overlook the mind-boggling depth of their trainer's Festival challenge.

After parading 25 horses for the cameras yesterday morning, Paul Nicholls acknowledged that he has probably assembled his "strongest team ever". Two of them, Twist Magic and Master Minded, dispute favouritism for the meeting's other championship steeplechase, but even they can only audition for a supporting role.

A lot of ink must pass under the bridge before the Totesport Cheltenham Gold Cup, however. And once Nicholls had confirmed that all was well with Kauto Star, after his fleeting lameness over the weekend, this instead became the proper moment to consider horses that would be stars in almost every other yard.

The champion trainer indicated that his stable jockey, Ruby Walsh, will come down in favour of Master Minded in the Queen Mother Champion Chase, with Sam Thomas on Twist Magic. Both horses have established their eligibility this winter by beating last year's winner, Voy Por Ustedes, but there is no mistaking the sense that Master Minded – who arrived from France last summer – is progressing with almost indecent haste.

"He had been doing some sensational work before he won at Newbury the other day," Nicholls said. "And I think he has improved again since, enormously so. I made a pig's ear of running Twist Magic on very testing going at Ascot. But I have always thought him a spring horse. He loves better ground, and I hope Fair Along and Tamarinbleu run, because they would go a real good gallop and that would suit both my horses."

The stable's steeplechasing hegemony has its roots in the perennial renewal of its raw materials. Time and again, Nicholls introduced young hurdlers such as Breedsbreeze or Chapoturgeon as "a cracking prospect for fences this time next year".

Sure enough, the success over hurdles of Noland at the 2006 Festival was only a prelude to his date with destiny in the Irish Independent Arkle Trophy.

After missing last season with injury, Noland made an immaculate chasing debut at Folkestone last month and is likely to warm up for the Festival at Sandown tomorrow. "He picked up a bit of a bug at Folkestone but he's back in tip-top form now," Nicholls observed.

"I hope the ground will be all right for him to go to Sandown, because I'm very keen to get a run into him over an undulating track. I'm sure if we get him to Cheltenham in top shape he will be the one to beat."

His leading hope for the Royal and SunAlliance Chase appears to be Denman's brother, Silverburn, a winner at Sandown last time. "I think he has an outstanding chance," Nicholls said. "I know he seemed a bit disappointing at Kempton on Boxing Day, but it was Ruby's first ride back after his injury and he might ride a bit differently another time. I just think he got caught a bit flat-footed off a slow pace, and I'm convinced that he will stay three miles. I don't think we've ever had him better."

Among the hurdlers, Nicholls gave an auspicious mention to I'msingingtheblues in the County Hurdle but commends Celestial Halo as the best value of all. "I see he went out in the Triumph Hurdle betting after he got beat at Doncaster," he said.

"But I was probably guilty of running him a bit short. I was trying to pinch a race with him, I'd backed off him after he won at Newbury. It didn't work out, but he has improved enormously since, and I still think he'll run a really big race at Cheltenham."

It says everything about his stable that Nicholls could well claim the third tier of the podium in the Gold Cup as well. Star De Mohaison remains a possible runner, albeit he has been held up with "a few niggling problems" since a solid resumption over hurdles on New Year's Day, while Neptune Collonges earned his chance when outclassing his rivals at Wincanton last Saturday.

"Star De Mohaison is a horse we haven't seen the best of," he said. "But if we're not happy with him, he'll wait for Aintree. Neptune Collonges deserves his place in the field and could well get placed. My only suspicion is that some of his better form is on flatter tracks."

As for Kauto Star, he was reshod yesterday morning and cantered blithely away. "He's not like Denman," Nicholls said. "Denman puts everything into it, and then needs a lot of time to get back again. He had a quiet week after winning at Newbury, and is just stepping up his work again. But Kauto Star could run again a week after a race, without doing any work in between."

News
peopleFrankie Boyle responds to referendum result in characteristically offensive style
News
news
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
life
New Articles
i100... with this review
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Voices
Holly's review of Peterborough's Pizza Express quickly went viral on social media
Sport
footballTim Sherwood: This might be th match to wake up Manchester City
Arts and Entertainment
musicHow female vocalists are now writing their own hits
New Articles
i100
News
news
Arts and Entertainment
musicBiographer Hunter Davies has collected nearly a hundred original manuscripts
News
Blahnik says: 'I think I understand the English more than they do themselves'
people
Arts and Entertainment
Michelle Dockery as Lady Mary Crawley in Downton Abbey
TVInside Downton Abbey series 5
Life and Style
The term 'normcore' was given the oxygen of publicity by New York magazine during the autumn/winter shows in Paris in February
fashionWhen is a trend a non-trend? When it's Normcore, since you ask
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

Marketing Manager - Leicestershire - £35,000

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (CIM, B2B, MS Offi...

Marketing Executive (B2B and B2C) - Rugby, Warwickshire

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A highly successful organisation wit...

SEN Coordinator + Teacher (SENCO)

£1 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Job Purpose To work closely with the he...

Research Manager - Quantitative/Qualitative

£32000 - £42000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client is curr...

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam