Sue Montgomery: Betting tickets are not required to enjoy art of Master Minded exhibition

Inside Track

That bookmakers rarely show philanthropic tendencies is a statement that could be part of Sybil Fawlty's famous specialist subject, the bleedin' obvious. The races the big firms sponsor are, with a few honourable exceptions (the Coral Eclipse Stakes, the Ladbrokes St Leger, for instance), competitive multi-runner handicaps that maximise punter interest and investment.

Until last year, the Victor Chandler Chase was always a brisk betting heat, as a target for high-class two-mile chasers on limited-handicap terms. Over the years the race has provided not only close, stirring finishes but also some genuinely top-class performances, in victory and defeat, for prestige handicaps offer more potential than weight-for-age championship events for finding out just how good top horses are.

It was certainly thus in Arkle's day; as well as his Gold Cups the peerless one took two Hennessys, a Whitbread and a Gallagher Gold Cup, all under 12st7lb, and an Irish Grand National under 12st. One of Desert Orchid's best efforts came in the inaugural Victor Chandler Chase 20 years ago; the memory of his head defeat of Panto Prince, giving him 22lb, still raises the nape hairs.

The two-mile champion five years ago, Azertyuiop, earned his rating of 182 not from his victory in the Queen Mother Champion Chase, but from his failure by a neck to concede 19lb to Isio at Ascot. And a year later Well Chief produced a career-best when he gave Thisthatandtother 20lb and a near two-length beating when the race was transferred to Cheltenham.

Today's renewal at Ascot will be the second since the contest was upgraded by the sport's race-planners to Grade One to fill a perceived gap in the division's programme between the Tingle Creek Chase and the Champion Chase. It has attracted its smallest-ever field – the reigning two-mile champion, Master Minded, will face just four – and, with a long odds-on favourite, the betting market has been moribund.

The current Victor Chandler sponsorship contract, which puts more than £100,000 into the card, ends today and is not likely to be renewed if the race retains its current conditions. The Gibraltar-based firm's eponymous boss is, in time-honoured fashion, considering his position.

Betting and bookmakers are a huge part of the warp and weft of the sport but not the only threads in its pattern; for many aficionados it does not matter at all if there is money on it, neither do they feel the need to show the worth of their opinion. The sight of a good horse, and Master Minded is the highest-rated jumper in training, putting in an exhibition round of jumping can be enough.

The six-year-old is so far ahead of his rivals that he should have merely an exercise spin to pick up the winner's share of the £140,000 purse, but then the cup and lip syndrome was graphically demonstrated by Topless at Taunton on Thursday. Master Minded's trainer, Paul Nicholls, has enjoyed and endured mixed fortunes in the race, having won twice, with subsequent Cheltenham champion Call Equiname and with Young Devereaux, but also being responsible for Azertyuiop and Twist Magic, beaten at odds-on 12 months ago.

Two of Master Minded's rivals – both of whom, like the favourite, started their careers in their native France – merit interest, if not support.

Petit Robin is trained by Nicky Henderson, who sent out Isio. "It is a bit of a shame to see such a one-sided race," he said, "but if we have any pretensions about going to Cheltenham we might as well find out now. I'd actually rather not be finding out at this stage, but we don't have other options. And there is a huge amount of prize-money on offer so we'll do our best to take some of it."

Or Noir De Somoza has won 13 times round Auteuil, but will be having his first run for David Pipe, his first over British fences, his first at the minimum trip and his first since flopping as favourite in the Grand Steeplechase de Paris last May.

Henderson's hurdlers have a more than one in four strike-rate at the moment. In the Ascot opener, won last year by the yard's current Champion Hurdle favourite Binocular, Zaynar (12.30), who is owned by a syndicate that includes Victor Chandler, should confirm his position at the top of the Triumph Hurdle market. Another likely to score at prohibitive odds is Master Minded's young stablemate Free World (1.40), preferred to Calgary Bay over today's distance and in receipt of weight in the Grade Two novices' chase.

In the two feature handicaps, there may be a double as well for Peter Bowen, courtesy of Serabad (1.05), who was outstayed and outclassed last time, and for Iron Man (3.25).

At Haydock a clutch of Champion Hurdle contenders put their credentials on the line, with Snap Tie the most likely winner but progressive, unexposed mare Issaquah (1.20) better value. In Ireland, too, the focus is on the Festival, mainly through the exciting novice Cousin Vinny at Naas. His trainer, Willie Mullins, is as blessed as Henderson in the hurdles department, and like him feels no embarrassment about his riches.

Crisis at Great Leighs as racing forced to a halt

The future of Britain's newest racecourse, Great Leighs, which finally opened its doors nine months ago after a series of delays, is in the balance. Its meeting scheduled for Thursday evening has been transferred to Kempton after the British Horseracing Authority refused yesterday to renew the Essex track's licence to operate.

It had been holding meetings this year under a temporary licence while the racecourse company is restructured. No specific reasons were given for the sudden closure of a course much-liked by trainers and riders, but its chairman, John Holmes, and his solicitors are to meet the authorities again on Monday with a view to resuming by the end of the month.

Despite reports of various difficulties – although the racing surface is sound and safe, the facilities for racegoers still leave much to be desired – the track's management insist racing will continue. But it seems that building it is one thing, getting them to come quite another. It is to be hoped that the next new track off the drawing board, Ffos Las – on schedule to open in June this year – has a less troubled birth.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Sport
Ashley Barnes of Burnley scores their second goal
footballMan City vs Burnley match report
News
news
News
Sir James Dyson: 'Students must be inspired to take up the challenge of engineering'
i100
Life and Style
Apple showed no sign of losing its talent for product launches with the new, slightly larger iPhone 6 making headlines
techSecurity breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
Arts and Entertainment
Catherine (Sarah Lancashire) in Happy Valley ((C) Red Productions/Ben Blackall)
TV
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

Recruitment Genius: Junior Estimator

£17000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has ari...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Negotiator - OTE £24,000

£22000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An enthusiastic individual is r...

Recruitment Genius: Area Manager - West Midlands - OTE £35,000

£27000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Area Manager is required to ...

Recruitment Genius: Area Manager - Yorkshire & Humber - OTE £35,000

£27000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Area Manager is required to ...

Day In a Page

A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

Who remembers that this week we enter the 150th anniversary year of the end of the American Civil War, asks Robert Fisk
Homeless Veterans appeal: Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served

Homeless Veterans appeal

Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served
Downfall of Dustin 'Screech' Diamond, the 'Saved By The Bell' star charged with bar stabbing

Scarred by the bell

The downfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

Security breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
Cuba's golf revolution: But will the revolutionary nation take 'bourgeois' game to its heart?

Will revolutionary Cuba take 'bourgeois' golf to its heart?

Fidel Castro ridiculed the game – but now investment in leisure resort projects is welcome
The Locked Room Mysteries: As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor Otto Penzler explains the rules of engagement

The Locked Room Mysteries

As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor explains the rules of engagement
Amy Adams on playing painter Margaret Keane in Tim Burton's Big Eyes

How I made myself Keane

Amy Adams hadn’t wanted to take the role of artist Margaret Keane, because she’d had enough of playing victims. But then she had a daughter, and saw the painter in a new light
Ed Richards: Parting view of Ofcom chief. . . we hate jokes on the disabled

Parting view of Ofcom chief... we hate jokes on the disabled

Bad language once got TV viewers irate, inciting calls to broadcasting switchboards. But now there is a worse offender, says retiring head of the media watchdog, Ed Richards
A look back at fashion in 2014: Wear in review

Wear in review

A look back at fashion in 2014
Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015. Might just one of them happen?

Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015

Might just one of them happen?
War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

The West needs more than a White Knight

Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

The stories that defined 2014

From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?