Truly a Master
Graham Buddry remembers the great Champion chaser Master Minded
If you ask someone to name their favourite racehorse it’s a sure thing that most will come up with a horse that won the Gold Cup, Champion Hurdle or Grand National. Fine races and fine horses all, but why is it that the two mile chasers, the Ferraris of the jumping game are often overlooked? For my money there is no finer sight than these incredibly fast and accurate jumpers at their sublime best,yet they are so quickly out of mind when out of sight.
We have been spoiled of late with the likes of Sprinter Sacre but although he raced only a handful of years ago, how many recalled Master Minded without a little prompt? Once hailed as the greatest racehorse seen for many years but too quickly his bubble of invincibility burst and he was scratching to regain some semblance of the lofty reputation he held.
Where once all the top chasers began their careers in Ireland, the emphasis has shifted firmly to France and that is where Master Minded hailed from. Trained by the master French trainer, Guillaume Macaire,Master Minded began his career before his fourth birthday with a win at Auteuil. In his next six races, all at the same course, Master Minded notched another brace of victories in lower class events but fell on both starts in Graded company. This didn’t deter Clive Smith from buying him and prior to his move to Paul Nicholls’ yard in England ran a fine second place on his final start for Macaire in a Grade 1 at Auteuil.
With loud whispers already doing the rounds,Master Minded made his English debut at Exeter on 20 December 2007 but got no further than the third fence where Sam Thomas was unseated.
Off the mark in his next race at Sandown, the five-year-old Master Minded was then pitched in against the reigning Champion chaser, Voy Por Ustedes,in the Game Spirit at Newbury.In receipt of six pounds, Master Minded made all to win as he pleased before his date with destiny at the Cheltenham Festival.
Here Master Minded put in the performance of a lifetime,an earth shattering run of epic proportions as he bounded further and further clear with consummate ease to smash Voy Por Ustedes by a massive 19 lengths (which could easily have been far more) with another 16 lengths back to the third placed horse. Voy Por Ustedes got his revenge next time out over an extra half mile at Aintree when Master Minded hit the second last so hard he was lucky to remain standing but still finished well clear of the third home.
A new season saw the champion even stronger as he romped away with the Tingle Creek and Victor Chandler (now the Clarence House) before a demolition job onWell Chief and co.in the Champion Chase back at Cheltenham.
Having won the three biggest two mile chases in England, Master Minded next headed to Punchestown for a Grade 1 clash with the best Ireland had to offer, Big Zeb.Master Minded led from the start and seemed to have matters well in hand as they entered the home straight as Big Zeb came under strong pressure but he responded well and they were alongsides as they jumped the last.
Big Zeb made a mistake here and Master Minded kept the initiative, although both horses gave their all and only a head separated them at the line.
Perhaps this race took far more out of Master Minded than anyone realised at the time.Maybe,like many French horses, he had peaked for his career and the best was now a memory. Either way the new season would not be anything like the last two.
Master Minded started off with a tame third place of six runners at Cheltenham. Next up he won the Game Spirit at Newbury, again despite a massive blunder at the last. Odds on to win his third Champion Chase at the Festival on his next start, Master Minded was already well beaten before the last as he took a poor fourth place behind Big Zeb and that was the end of his season.
The 2010/11 season saw what many hoped was a resurgence of the former champion as he quickly opened his