Paul Nicholls has been wondering where he might find a horse to tackle Long Run, now that the new champion has deposed his stalwarts, Kauto Star and Denman.
To judge from events here yesterday, he has had one all along. Master Minded, whose defeat at Cheltenham last month implied that he might himself be past his very best, produced one of the finest performances of his career when tried over two and a half miles in the John Smith's Melling Chase, always coasting and easing nine lengths clear of Alberta's Run.
Nicholls reproached himself for persevering over two miles with Master Minded at Cheltenham. "He was flat to the boards all the way, and made that horrible mistake two out because he was trying to keep up," the trainer said. "It's clear that he needs this longer distance now and we now have a new horse to take on Long Run." Next season Master Minded will be aimed at the King George VI Chase at Kempton on Boxing Day, a race won four times prior to Long Run's emergence by Kauto Star. "Kauto has got the video and the T-shirt," Nicholls said. "Now it's Master Minded's turn."
Clive Smith, who owns both horses, is not yet entertaining the possibility that Kauto Star and Master Minded could end up in the same race. "You never know," he said. "We will have to see how Kauto Star runs at Punchestown next month, but the first time he runs a bad race he'll be retired."
Nicholls has almost certainly sealed his sixth consecutive trainers' championship this week, regardless of his quest for a first win in the big race today. But he will be reluctant to count any chickens after seeing Mon Parrain looking home and hosed in the John Smith's Topham Chase over the National fences, only to be reeled in late by Always Waining. The winner, trained by Peter Bowen, was emulating his success in the same race last year and only just missed the cut for the National this time round.
Another Welsh horse, Saint Are, gave Tim Vaughan the biggest moment of his career so far in the John Smith's Sefton Hurdle, while Quito De La Roque overcame the drying ground to thwart a 50-1 shot, Sarando, by a neck in the novice chase. Tom Scudamore dislocated a shoulder in a fall from The Giant Bolster, creating a vacancy on Or Noir De Somoza in the National. Barry Geraghty, the 2003 winner on Monty's Pass, was asked to take over by David Pipe and promptly produced a flawless audition on Battle Group. Daryl Jacob meanwhile book-ended the day with wins on Topolski and Tempest River, both advertising the merits of smaller stables, run by David Arbuthnot and Ben Case respectively.
Chris McGrath's Nap
Plan A (5.00 Aintree)
Cruised for a long way at Cheltenham and sharper test and tongue-tie can help him last longer today.
Arbor Supreme (4.15 Aintree)
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One To Watch
Westmeath (Philip Rothwell) was making ground smoothly when hitting three out at Aintree yesterday.
Where The Money's Going
Don't Push It is 10-1 from 14-1 with Coral for the big race today.