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Master Minded Heads Champion Chase as Six-Day Confirmations Revealed 05/03/09

The anticipation for this year’s Festival keeps building as six-day confirmations were revealed today for the second day, Wednesday, March 11.

A total of 14 horses go forward in the day’s feature race, the £320,000 Grade One Seasons Holidays Queen Mother Champion Chase (3.20pm) headed by reigning champion Master Minded, who destroyed his rivals with a stunning 19-length victory 12 months ago.

Tidal Bay
© racing-images.co.uk

Tidal Bay

The Paul Nicholls-trained six-year-old, unbeaten this season, is set to be the shortest-priced favourite of the 2009 Festival and his main opposition could be dual Grade One scorer Big Zeb, one of three Irish-trained entries remaining, last year’s The Irish Independent Arkle Challenge Trophy hero Tidal Bay, and Well Chief, who was runner-up in this race in 2005 and fell when well fancied in 2007 but has not run for nearly two years.

The Nicky Henderson-trained Petit Robin may re-oppose Master Minded having finished second to the champion in the Victor Chandler Chase at Ascot in January, while Andrew Balding has left in Briareus, who was fourth to another Clive Smith-owned chaser, Kauto Star, on his latest appearance in the King George VI Chase at Kempton on Boxing Day.

Other notable acceptors include the 2006 Seasons Holidays Queen Mother Champion Chase victor Newmill, Victor Chandler Chase third Mahogany Blaze, Punchestown Champion Chase winner Twist Magic and Grade Two scorer Scotsirish from the yard of Willie Mullins.

Some of the leading novice hurdlers are set to contest the £120,000 Grade One Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle (2.05pm), for which 29 horses remain in contention, including the Alan King-trained trio of Karabak, Bensalem and Junior. Last year’s winning trainer Willie Mullins has five horses standing their ground, headed by Cousin Vinny and Mikael d’Haguenet, while the fancied Diamond Harry could bid for a third success at Cheltenham this season following a brace of Grade Two triumphs. Leading contenders Mad Max, The Nightingale and recent Kelso winner Knockara Beau are also among the acceptors.

The top novice staying chasers will also be in action in the £170,000 Grade One RSA Chase (2.40pm), which has 19 going forward. The Dr P J Moriarty Chase victor Cooldine is one of five Irish-trained horses remaining, and he is set to be joined in the extended three-mile contest by leading fancies What A Friend, Carruthers, Gone To Lunch and The Market Man.

Irish-trained horses have dominated the Grade One Weatherbys Champion Bumper (5.15pm), winning 13 of the 16 runnings, and the stranglehold looks set to continue this year with 19 the 31 acceptors coming from across the Irish Sea. Willie Mullins has nine horses engaged as he looks for a seventh victory in the race, including current market leader Sicilian Secret and the fancied quartet of Quinola Des Obeaux, Gagewell Flyer, Cadspeed and Meath All Star. Other potential Irish raiders include Dunguib, Rite Of Passage and Shinrock Paddy, while the home challenge may be led by the Victor Dartnall-trained King Henry.

Extremely competitive handicap action looks guaranteed with 90 horses going forward in the £80,000 Grade Three Coral Cup (4.00pm) and the weights are headed by recent National Spirit Hurdle victor Lough Derg (11st 12lb), who won over this trip in the Steel Plate and Sections Hurdle at Cheltenham on New Year’s Day. Other notable acceptors include Lough Derg’s stablemate Mamlook, impressive Kempton winner Pause And Clause, The Polomoche and the Pierse Hurdle runner-up Psycho, who was also second in last year’s Vincent O’Brien County Handicap Hurdle. The maximum field for the Coral Cup is 28.

A total of 41 horses remain in the £80,000 Listed Fred Winter Juvenile Hurdle (4.40pm), including the Edward O’Grady-trained Alexander Severus, impressive Taunton winner Nictory Vote, Amore Mio and Silk Affair. The weights are headed by the Mr Thriller (11st 10lb), who is currently a short-priced favourite in Saturday’s Paddy Power Imperial Cup at Sandown on Saturday. The David Pipe-trained gelding would be in line for a £75,000 bonus from Paddy Power if he can triumph in that race and any contest at The Festival. The safety limit is 24 runners.

Wednesday’s superb seven-race card gets under way with the amateurs in action in the four-mile 139th Year of the National Hunt Chase Challenge Cup (1.30pm), which has 40 acceptors including last year’s fourth Niche Market, Grade Two winner Kornati Kid, and the Jonjo O’Neill-trained trio of Can’t But Time, Wichita Lineman and Carnival Town. The field is limited to 20 runners.

GROUND

The going at Cheltenham is currently:

Old Course (used on Tuesday & Wednesday) - Good to Soft
New Course (used on Thursday & Friday) - Good to Soft, Soft in places
Cross Country Course (Tuesday only) - Soft, Heavy in places

The forecast is for showery periods between Friday and Monday.

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