A plan that was a pleasure to watch in the slick efficiency of its execution brought Paul Nicholls his seventh Tingle Creek Chase, and fifth in a row, as Twist Magic, guided with metronomic precision by Ruby Walsh, led from start to finish.
It was the seven-year-old's second victory in the Grade 1 two-miler in three years, his first preceded by two by Kauto Star and yesterday's by Master Minded. Before that had come Cenkos and Flagship Uberalles, but none gave the champion trainer more professional satisfaction than the latest.
"We spent more time than ever this week going through the various scenarios and talking about tactics," he said. "I knew the horse was right back to his best – which is a matter of considerable credit to the team at home in itself – and as fit as I could get him, and we know he goes well round this track. So when you've got so much in your favour, you use it.
"The idea was to take the race to the others, get them on the stretch, but not to the extent that we left ourselves as a target in front. And Ruby got it spot-on."
If any park course is, this is a track for a thinking horseman, particularly over the line of obstacles down the back straight in a fast-unfolding contest like yesterday's, round a single circuit. With just 13 strides between each of the last three, the so-called railway fences, a race can be won or lost there. Twist Magic saved energy and gained ground as he met them on a perfect stride and flew them with spring-heeled elan.
By the turn for home the gelding, with Walsh looking confidently round for non-existent dangers, was well clear of his labouring rivals and powered up the demanding hill to the winning post with plenty in reserve. Forpadydeplasterer took second place, 15 lengths adrift, with Well Chief nine lengths back in third. The favourite Big Zeb was never remotely in contention, a disappointing fourth of five.
It was Twist Magic's third success round the tricky track. "I'd have maybe preferred a lead but that was never going to happen," said Walsh. "But I thought he'd be fine in front – the first time I rode him as a novice, he more or less ran off with me and made all – and he never missed a beat. He was spectacular all the way down the back and neat and nimble at the last. To ride a two-miler like him round here takes some beating."
The French-bred bay, though, is not the most straightforward of characters at home. "He's been known to just plant himself at the start of the gallop and not move for five minutes, for no apparent reason," said Nicholls. "And last season he mentally lost it a bit. He does most of his work alone now, which keeps him happy, and I think today was probably a career-best from him."
Twist Magic is now second favourite, behind his stablemate Master Minded (currently steadily recovering from a cracked rib), to thwart the reigning two-mile champion's bid for three consecutive Queen Mother Champion Chases but, impressive as yesterday's performance was, even Nicholls admits that it may have been his Cheltenham. "He's never seemed to be at his best come Festival time," he said, "but should anything prevent Master Minded from being there, this one's not a bad sub to pull off the bench."
This was a third successive Saturday big-race success for the powerful Manor Farm team after Denman in the Hennessy Gold Cup and Kauto Star in the Betfair Chase (replicating the results of two years ago), with Celestial Halo, Big Buck's and Kauto Star the class acts to come from the Somerset yard over the next three weekends.
In the earlier HenryVIII Chase, a novices feature over the same two-mile trip, there was a welcome return to the spotlight for Henrietta Knight, whose charge Somersby was another to demonstrate the benefit of crossing these fences with accuracy. The five-year-old put himself in the reckoning for the Arkle Trophy at the Festival with a fine round of jumping under Tony McCoy that was far too good for the favourite, Crack Away Jack.