Master the mother of all chasers

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The Independent Online

The 50th running of this afternoon's centrepiece, the Queen Mother Champion Chase, should produce a winner worthy of the anniversary. Master Minded, who will start the shortest-priced favourite of the week, is pure gold, a rare nugget of true excellence. Of course, anything can happen in a horserace; another rival might fall in front of him, his reins might break, a militant suffragette might run on to the course. But, please the fates, this is one occasion where the word banker can be uttered without the risk of attracting opprobrium.

Master Minded is the two-mile crown's defending monarch. His performance last year, when he came 19 lengths clear of Voy Por Ustedes as a callow five-year-old, was simply staggering and he has done nothing since to dent the belief that, over the minimum trip, he is still invincible.

He is now rated only behind Flyingbolt on the Champion Chase pantheon. And Flyingbolt, who won at 1-5 in 1966, was a freak. Three months before his runaway Festival victory he had won the two-and-a-half mile handicap at the track that is now the Boylesports Chase by 15 lengths under 12st 6lb, and the day after finished a close third in the Champion Hurdle. Later in the season he took the Irish Grand National over three miles five, carrying 12st.

When Master Minded joined Paul Nicholls's team 20 months ago as a winner of three chases in his native France, his range was apparent, but at that stage relatively raw. Education and experience has harnessed and honed his talent to produce something exceptional.

And the powerful bay's technique over a fence is a joy to watch, it is apparently even better to experience. "I know Papillon was only a handicapper," said his rider, Ruby Walsh, "but he did win me a Grand National, and I thought I'd never ride a better lepper, he used to get that high and far through the air.

"But the way this horse does it is truly special. Most racehorses will raise their heads and necks going to a fence, but this one doesn't. His scope comes through keeping them still and level and jumping through his shoulders."

The Champion Chase is not hyped as much as the Gold Cup, but is eponymously the most accurate of all the week's title races, in that it most often identifies the best in the division. The sight of chasers flying the minimum trip is thrilling to watch, though riding it brings its own challenges.

Walsh again: "In a top-level two-mile chase you don't have time to do any organising with strides," he said. "If you do you'll land five lengths adrift of where you were, so you have to leave it to the horse. Master Minded is perfectly aware of his power and sometimes in the past he's been a bit too keen to use it, standing off from way too far. But as he's settled and matured he's realised that he's enough of an athlete to go to the boards of a fence and still jump it comfortably, and he's now as good from close in as he is from far out."

Master Minded (3.20) is one to savour, not bet on; the puzzle is to work out the places in a generous each-way market. At his best, Well Chief would be firmly booked for second; he beat all bar Moscow Flyer in the race four years ago and would have won almost any other running. But the injury-plagued 10-year-old has run only four times since, and not for nearly two years and his soundness is on a tightrope. Irish raider Big Zeb, a faller when poised to win at Punchestown last month, would be favourite without Master Minded in the field but his compatriot Scotsirish could sneak some prize money at 66-1, in addition to the £68,500 that his Willie Mullins stablemate Mikael D'Haguenet (2.05) takes home.

Whoever takes the three-mile novices' chase will have some mighty shoes to fill, given past winners of the calibre of Florida Pearl, Looks Like Trouble, and Denman. The heart says bold Carruthers (2.40), bred and owned by Lord Oaksey, sometime doyen of the amateur weighing room, the pressroom and now tireless worker for the Injured Jockeys Fund. The head says Cooldine, chosen by Walsh over What A Friend. Go with the heart.

Hyperion's selections: Channel 4 races

1.30 We've been warned. In the last six years this has gone to a 40-1 shot, two 33-1s and a 25-1 brute called Sudden Shock. On the figures, Tank Top has little chance but hails from a stable in stupendous form. Top Irish amateur Derek O'Connor rides DRUMCONVIS, who displayed formidable staying power over hurdles last spring and attracts today at 16-1.

2.05 Ruby Walsh kept his fans waiting until the final event for a winner yesterday but is strongly fancied to grab an early success today with MIKAEL D'HAGUENET, who arrives with a monster reputation. JP McManus recently paid a banker's pension for Karabak and the odds are not long against that purchase price being partially offset here.

2.40 Walsh will curse if it proves he chose wrongly in riding Cooldine instead of WHAT A FRIEND. It must have been hard to reject the latter – who is part-owned by Sir Alex Ferguson, is unbeaten this season and has a victory at this track to his credit.

3.20 MASTER MINDED should coast home.

4.00 Onnix's stable knows how to win here and the 40-1 can be justified only by the 7yo's preference for faster ground. Another runner to creep just into the handicap proper is NINETIETH MINUTE (perhaps Ferguson should own this one) and Tom Taaffe's 6yo can find further improvement over this 2m5f. The 18-1 is tempting.

Chris Corrigan

Name Game: Running today

Casey Jones (2.40 RSA Chase)

American railroad engineer who steamed into legend when he died saving his passengers in a collision with a freight train in 1900. It is said that when his body was pulled from the wreckage, his hands still clutched the brake and whistle cord.

The Polomoche (4.00 Coral Cup)

Horned monster in one of the Babar the Elephant books by Jean de Brunhoff.

Gone To Lunch (2.40 RSA Chase)

Apparently the reason why his owner, a London-based property developer, is so often unavailable. Also his initials, Gary Thomas Lever.

Alexander Severus (4.40 Fred Winter Juvenile Hurdle)

The last of the Syrian emperors of Rome, an enlightened ruler who did much to improve the morals and condition of his people.

Sue Montgomery