David Pipe has threatened to throw the cat among the pigeons by running a French superstar against the long odds-on Master Minded in Saturday's Victor Chandler Chase.
Master Minded is quoted at 1-4 for the Ascot showpiece but the maximum of seven rivals that Paul Nicholls' brilliant young chaser will face includes Or Noir De Somoza, who was high class when trained in France and is soon to make his debut in Britain for the Pipe stable.
An intriguing addition to Pipe's strength, the seven-year-old has won 13 of his 20 starts in France with most victories achieved in top-level events at Auteuil. "He is an exciting horse. His best form is probably at two and a half miles but two-one round Ascot should suit; he looks nice," says Pipe.
"He's got top-class form in France and I'm really looking forward to seeing him on a racecourse. He's been entered in everything at Cheltenham from the Queen Mother to the Gold Cup and it will be interesting to see how he races in this country," he told the At The Races channel.
Irish property multi-millionaire Sean Mulryan – a leading owner on the French jumps circuit – sent Or Noir De Somoza to the Wellington yard in October with a view to having him trained specifically for a race at the Cheltenham Festival.
"This horse is top class and has only been out of the frame twice in 20 starts so – I hope – the sky's the limit with him," Pipe added. "I have yet to confirm with the owners where he will start off in this country."
Or Noir De Somoza, one of the most exciting prospects to come out of France for some time, has not run since the French Gold Cup in May and the Somerset trainer could delay his charge's UK debut another week, until a Grade Two race at Cheltenham, over three miles (the Letheby & Christopher Chase). Pipe has, however, taken out of Saturday's race last year's winner Tamarinbleu and I'm So Lucky.
Nicholls, meanwhile, has left Natal in Sandown's Grade One event in addition to Master Minded who looked back to the form of his exhilarating Queen Mother Champion Chase win last March when he took the Tingle Creek at Sandown last month.
Nicky Henderson's Petit Robin, second in the Desert Orchid Chase behind German raider Fiepes Shuffle, is due to take his chance on Saturday. Nick Gifford's long-term absentee Killaghy Castle (formerly a leading novice), Philip Hobbs's Lord Henry, Nigel Twiston-Davies's Mahogany Blaze and Rebecca Curtis's Marodima complete the field.
Last year's winner Our Vic is among a 48-strong entry for the Ryanair Chase at Cheltenham on 12 March. The 11-year-old became the first winner of the two mile, five furlong contest after it had been upgraded to Grade One status. He is one of three possibles from the Pipe stable, along with Tamarinbleu and Or Noir De Somoza."
Totesport have opened their book on this weekend's Victor Chandler Chase at Ascot and Master Minded has been installed as the red-hot favourite at 1-4. Paul Nicholls's crack chaser is currently the 2-5 favourite to defend his Champion Chase crown at Cheltenham in March.
Ebadiyan, a former John Oxx inmate, emerged yesterday as Ireland's leading hope for the Triumph Hurdle at Cheltenham in March. He won the Punchestown Juvenile Hurdle with rider John Cullen always confident to win by an eased-down eight lengths.
William Hill were most impressed with the Oliver Brady-trained hurdler and go 8-1 from 20-1 for the Cheltenham event. Victor Chandler go 14-1 while Stan James are 14-1 from 25-1. Paddy Power are 12s from 25s.
Victor Chandler Chase (Sandown, Saturday: totesport ante-post odds): 1-4 Master Minded, 11-2 Petit Robin, 8-1 Or Noir de Somoza, 20-1 Lord Henry, Natal, 25-1 Mahogany Blaze, 50-1 Killaghy Castle, Marodima.