Stars fail to shine on both sides of Irish Sea

Master Minded beaten by old rival Well Chief while Solwhit upsets Hurricane Fly

The tempest had died away, but yesterday its legacy was strewn across the track both here, where a champion steeplechaser was humbled, and at Punchestown where there was a similar reverse for a champion hurdler in the making.

It is perfectly feasible to exonerate both Master Minded and Hurricane Fly. Each was making his first appearance since April against highly eligible opponents in execrable conditions. Pale sunshine was welcome on both sides of the Irish Sea after the deluges of previous days, but the going underfoot had begun to congeal. Anyone who caught the opener at Punchestown, where they finished legless, knew that this was going to be an afternoon when any chinks in a horse's fitness would be pitilessly exposed.

The writing was on the wall for Hurricane Fly almost at once. With just three rivals, Paul Townend tried to settle him in front but his mount proved in a reckless hurry. Townend then took a lead off Muirhead, but still Hurricane Fly bowed and swayed his head.

His chief concern was always going to be Davy Russell on Solwhit, and so Townend kept him trapped on the rail as Muirhead came off the bridle. But when the gap came, approaching the last, Russell was in like Flynn. Solwhit dashed two and a half lengths clear on the flat with Hurricane Fly one-paced in third, another length away.

It should be noted that the odds-on favourite had been gelded during the summer and may take a bit more work now. As a son of Montjeu, equally, he must show the stomach for fighting established hurdlers. Willie Mullins, his trainer, played a dead bat. "They finished in the order the handicapper had assessed them," he noted. "It was his first step up into senior company, and I'm happy with his performance."

Charles Byrnes confirmed that Solwhit had been pretty straight for his comeback. "My lad doesn't take a lot of work to get him right," he remarked. "If we weren't going to beat Hurricane Fly today, we never were." Solwhit may yet go for the WBX Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Newcastle on Saturday week but will otherwise wait for Christmas at Leopardstown. "He's an improver," Russell said. "There's very little between all these horses. No one knows what will win [at Cheltenham in March] but my horse is a contender." Suitably perplexed, Coral eased Hurricane Fly from 5-2 to 4-1 for the Smurfit Champion Hurdle, the same price as Binocular, with Solwhit now 5-1 from 9-1.

As for Master Minded, he was always entitled to struggle giving 10lb to a horse as talented as Well Chief. And while he was soon in the lead under Ruby Walsh, his notoriously delicate rival had palpably returned in robust form, tracking him comfortably and shrugging off a mistake at the fifth. Timmy Murphy sent him on two out by which stage Mahogany Blaze and Newmill had also closed, both going better than the favourite. Well Chief eventually saw off Mahogany Blaze by just over a length, with a one-paced Master Minded nearly three lengths away in third.

Paul Nicholls, his trainer, had been reconciled to the possibility of defeat but admitted to some concern over its manner. "Basically, he has just hung to his right throughout the race," he said. "I had said beforehand that if Well Chief was ever going to beat us, it was going to be today, and I am more disappointed by the fact that he has hung, rather than the fact he has got beat."

Nicholls recalled Master Minded had shown a similar predilection when arriving from France. Indeed, Walsh had initially rejected any notion of going to Cheltenham, because he would have to be kept to right-hand tracks. "I don't know why he has done it again today," Nicholls said. "Maybe the ground was a bit dead for him. He had a good blow after the race. We will be back at level weights, and right-handed, in the Tingle Creek at Sandown."

He willingly joined the applause for Well Chief, whose renewal was warmly recognised by the crowd – along with the skill and patience of his trainer. "He's in the last chance saloon and not getting any younger so we have to look after him," David Pipe said. "He does most of his work in the swimming pool. That reception shows just what National Hunt racing is all about."

Well Chief's owner, David Johnson, compared him to a 10-year-old car with 3,000 miles on the clock. "He has glass legs," he said. "He has been blistered, had stem-cell treatment, you name it. It's amazing he's still walking."

Master Minded, previously odds-on, is now 7-4 for the defence of his crown in March, while Big Zeb is as short as 100-30 with Totesport. The best price for Well Chief is 7-1. Others may be prepared to be more indulgent but bookmakers sense the winds of change.

Property
pets
Arts and Entertainment
tvThe C-Word, TV review
Arts and Entertainment
The Ridiculous Six has been produced by Adam Sandler, who also stars in it
filmNew controversy after nine Native American actors walked off set
Sport
Danny Jones was in the Wales squad for the 2013 World Cup
rugby leagueKeighley Cougars half-back was taken off after just four minutes
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
The original ZX Spectrum was simple to plug into your TV and get playing on
techThirty years on, the ZX Spectrum is back, after a fashion
News
Tiger Woods and Lindsey Vonn are breaking up after nearly three years together
peopleFormer couple announce separation in posts on their websites
Sport
football
Life and Style
Google celebrates Bartolomeo Cristofori's 360th birthday
techGoogle Doodle to the rescue
Arts and Entertainment
Haunted looks: Matthew Macfadyen and Timothy Spall star in ‘The Enfield Haunting’
tvThe Enfield Haunting, TV review
News
news
News
The Mattehorn stands reflected in Leisee lake near Sunnegga station on June 30, 2013 near Zermatt, Switzerland
news
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
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

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living