MASTER MINDED arrives in search of the Champion Chase hat-trick and looks a good bet to land it, with the revitalised Twist Magic and Ferdy Murphy's Kalahari King the pair most likely to make life tough. Paul Nicholls' star needs little introduction as a dual winner of this race, who was officially rated a massive 186 following the first of them, a crushing 19-length victory over Voy Por Ustedes. It's fair to say that this season hasn't gone according to plan with the five-year-old defeated on his reappearance in November and a rib injury being identified as the cause. Indeed, during the winter his participation was considered to be in doubt, but the seven-year-old made rapid progress and surprised his trainer in being able to have a warm up for this in the Game Spirit at Newbury. His performance that day was explosive despite a mistake at the last and providing he arrives here in similar form - Paul Nicholls says he's actually come on a bundle - then it'll take a monumental effort to overhaul the champion. The biggest threat to Master Minded may come from stablemate Twist Magic who seems an improved animal this season, winning the Tingle Creek in fine style with the likes of Well Chief, Forpadydeplasterer and Big Zeb in behind. He's since repeated the dose with a striking victory at Ascot which, like Cheltenham, is a track some assumed didn't suit the enigmatic chaser. It's true his record at Cheltenham isn't great but Ruby Walsh felt the horse would've won the Arkle back in 2007 had he not fallen two from home and he's improved enough this year to rate a live player with that in mind. Kalahari King is very much the apple of his trainer's eye and he's not yet been out of the first two in eight starts over fences. He's raced in top company too, winning at Aintree in the spring having taken a battling second in last season's Arkle. The gelding is another who has had an injury problem, one that prevented him from returning until February this year, but he did so in impressive fashion by landing a handicap at Doncaster off 157, barely breaking sweat in the process. It's a big step forward from that table to this, but he's an improving sort and should come on plenty for that outing to run his race once more. Last year's Arkle winner Forpadydeplasterer renews rivalry with Kalahari King and strictly has his beating, but he's not looked quite so good in three starts since that day and the feeling remains he's not quite got the raw speed for this trip at the top level. With that in mind, perhaps Big Zeb will finish ahead of him this time, in the process reversing the form of their efforts in defeat behind Twist Magic at Sandown. Colm Murphy's charge is talented and gave Master Minded a real fright at Punchestown last season, but he's not been half as good an animal when leaving his native Ireland and perhaps he's not a great traveller, whilst Cheltenham's fences put his sometimes susceptible jumping under the spotlight as they did when he fell in this last year. Well Chief tries the cheek-pieces for the first time and victory for David Pipe's runner would bring the house down, but this fragile sort isn't as good as he once was when mixing it with Moscow Flyer in the golden age of two mile fencing. Mahogany Blaze got closer than many have to Master Minded last time but that gap should only increase here, so those backing an upset could do well to give Golden Silver a glance. He was beaten a long way in last year's Arkle but has improved this year, beating Ryanair Chase candidate Tranquil Sea over Christmas; with a strong pace likely his stamina could come into play. Oh Crick won at last year's festival but that handicap form is miles behind what will be required here and in Master Minded he faces arguably the best two mile chaser of the past twenty years; he's selected to prove it by landing the hat-trick.
Big Zeb (IRE) 5-4 (11-12) Tracked leaders in 3rd, jumped into 2nd at 4th, improved to lead 4 out, pushed out to assert before last, kept on strongly, easily, won at Punchestown 2m chs Grd 2 hvy in Jan beating Golden Silver (11-12) by 7l, 5 ran.
Forpadydeplasterer (IRE) 9-2 (11-7) Tracked winner, effort before 3 out, never able to challenge, 2nd of 5, 15l behind Twist Magic (11-7) at Sandown 2m Grade 1 chs (4yo+) (1) sft in Dec.
Golden Silver (FR) 9-10fav (11-12) Chased leader in 2nd, 3rd from 4th, slow 5th and dropped to 4th, disputed 3rd 5 out, improved to 2nd 4 out, ridden before 2 out, no impression leader before last, kept on same pace, pressed for 2nd close home, 2nd of 5, 7l behind Big Zeb (11-12) at Punchestown 2m chs Grd 2 hvy in Jan.
Kalahari King (FR) 10-1 (11-12) Held up towards rear, headway 4 out, close 3rd going well 2 out, led approaching last, quickened away flat, won at Doncaster 2m hcp chs (2) gs in Feb beating Oiseau de Nuit (10-4) by 3 1/2l, 15 ran.
Mahogany Blaze (FR) 14-1 (11-0) Tracked leading pair, blundered 5th, went 2nd and blundered 2 out, no chance with easy winner, 2nd of 5, 13l behind Master Minded (11-10) at Newbury 2m 1f chs G2 (1) gs in Feb.
Master Minded (FR) 8-13fav (11-10) Tracked leaders, not fluent 7th, challenged 9th, led 4 out, soon in command, well clear when blundered badly last, eased flat, won at Newbury 2m 1f chs G2 (1) gs in Feb beating Mahogany Blaze (11-0) by 13l, 5 ran.
Oh Crick (FR) 13-2 (11-7) Held up last, in touch, mistake 9th, effort on outside 5 out, ridden at bypassed 3 out, no impression approaching next, soon weakened, 4th of 6, 18l behind Monet's Garden (11-7) at Ascot 2m 5f Grade 1 chs (1) gs in Feb.
Twist Magic (FR) 11-8fav (11-7) Led to after 1st, tracked leader, led again after 3rd, made rest, ridden 2 out, 8 lengths clear last, stayed on well, won at Ascot 2m 1f Grade 1 chs (1) sft in Jan beating Petit Robin (11-7) by 12l, 7 ran.
Well Chief (GER) 6-1 (11-7) Held up, outpaced 3 out, soon ridden and no impression, 4th and beaten when hit last, 4th of 7, 19l behind Twist Magic (11-7) at Ascot 2m 1f Grade 1 chs (1) sft in Jan.