Smith hoping to Master rivals

Master Minded will be the star of the opening day of the Punchestown Festival as jump racing’s outstanding two-miler faces just five rivals in the Kerrygold Champion Chase.

The dual Queen Mother Champion Chase winner was supplemented for the Grade One when the ground became too quick for him at Sandown last weekend and owner Clive Smith believes conditions will be suitable for his first appearance in Ireland.

Smith has not had a runner at the meeting since 1992, but trainer Paul Nicholls and jockey Ruby Walsh won this very race a year ago through Twist Magic, who successfully deputised for Master Minded in last Saturday’s bet365.com Celebration Chase.

Two previous winners of the Kerrygold are among the remaining quintet, although Newmill (2006) and Mansony (2007) look well held on all known form.

Smith recalled: “I had a horse called Hawthorn Blaze, who was trained by David Elsworth, run in the two-mile Champion Novice Hurdle a few years ago.

“He ran well enough to be fourth, but I’d certainly be hoping to do a lot better this time.

“I had a lot of fun and stayed over for a couple of days, and hope to do the same this time.

“The horse has travelled over there already, Paul has texted me to tell me Master Minded has been out on the course and is doing very nicely.

“The ground will be fine. They have been telling us it has been raining and I believe Ruby has been out on the course and according to him it is perfect jumping ground.

“Fingers crossed he will win and it’s the plan to have the same sort of campaign next season.”

Master Minded’s main rival looks to be Colm Murphy’s Big Zeb, winner of the Paddy Power Dial-A-Bet Chase over Christmas.

His progressive profile slumped with falls in both the Queen Mother and in a prep-race at Punchestown but gained an injection of confidence with a recent victory over hurdles.

Conna Castle and Watson Lake complete the line-up.

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