Horse racing: Master's back to his brilliant best – Smith

Owner Clive Smith believes Master Minded has strong claims to regain his crown in the Queen Mother Champion Chase following an emphatic success in the Tingle Creek at Cheltenham on Saturday.

The dual champion could only finish fourth to Big Zeb in March when attempting the hat-trick after an interrupted campaign but he has been revitalised by a breathing operation.

He has now won both his starts this season and is likely to take in the Victor Chandler Chase at Ascot in January en route to the Festival.

"I was delighted. I couldn't believe how well he jumped and ran. Paul (Nicholls) thinks it's all down to his breathing operation. I'm sure he's correct and the horse is back to his best form," Smith said.

"You can never really know what the reason might be but he had an interrupted season last year with what we thought was a cracked rib which affected his running and he was on the horse walker for a month.

"He did run very well in the Game Spirit and I expected him to run very well in the Champion Chase which he didn't. It was just up and down for him and we just hoped he would come round.

"I think he has got a great chance again of winning the Champion Chase if nothing goes wrong.

"He looked absolutely brilliant yesterday. Even in the pre-parade ring we just watched him strut around as if he owned the place and we felt he was right back to his best in himself and he showed it on the course.

"The Victor Chandler is the likely next step. It fits in very well in the calendar and if by any chance they have bad weather there and it was off we might think about the Game Spirit.

"He's won the Victor Chandler before and I'm sure he can give another

good account of himself."

Jockey Noel Fehily replaced the injured Ruby Walsh on Master Minded on Saturday and was duly impressed.

"He was very good. It was a true-run race but he picked up well off a fast pace and saw them off," he said.

Meanwhile, Cue Card is likely to head straight to the Cheltenham Festival without another run after confirming he is in the big league with a fine performance on Saturday.

The lightly-raced four-year-old, trained by Colin Tizzard, found only Supreme Novices' Hurdle winner Menorah too good in the International Hurdle at the Prestbury Park track.

Tizzard will give Cue Card entries in the Champion Hurdle and the Supreme and decide which race to go for nearer the time.

"He's fine, he's come back and eaten up. He's just had the hardest race of his life and I don't think he lost anything in defeat," said the Dorset handler.

"It was what racing is all about. Menorah with a pacemaker was going to grind us into the ground.

"From being stuck in a pocket, Menorah burst through and went from two lengths down to three lengths up in 10 strides. It was a magical race.

"We are mindful of the jewel we've got and he won't run again until the Festival now. He'll be entered in both, no doubt. I've been talking to his owner Bob Bishop and we'll see what happens in the next month but he won't run again. He doesn't need to.

"He ran in January last season and we didn't run him again until the Champion Bumper. We'll let him fill up and have a go at one of the races at the Festival this year."

Sam Byram.

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