Master Minded enjoyed a reassuring first victory in Britain on yet another glittering afternoon for his trainer Paul Nicholls at Sandown.
The champion trainer also claimed wins at Chepstow and in the feature Tolworth Hurdle on the same card at the Esher venue and it may not be long before Master Minded lines up in the blue-chip races.
Carrying the Kauto Star colours of Clive Smith, the gelding had unseated on his British debut but jumped capably in the slipstream of Bleu Superbe in the Free £25 Bet partybets.com Handicap Chase.
He won tidily without setting the world on fire and Ruby Walsh’s task was made easier when Howle Hill made a dreadful blunder at the second-last.
Master Minded (9-4) kicked clear to hold off the running-on Hasty Prince by three and a half lengths.
Nicholls’ assistant Dan Skelton said: “The emphasis is on the future, as he’s only just five.
“We are pleased he got the chance of a clear round and a bit further than two miles may suit.”
Master Minded’s entry in the Ryanair Chase is his most likely Cheltenham Festival option and Nicholls added: “He will now go to the Game Spirit Chase (at Newbury) so we can see how good we are.”
Despite the fine form of Nicholls and Walsh, Five Dream was returned a tasty 16-1 in the partybets.com Handicap Hurdle.
Another French import, he cut a swathe through the pack to reach the front at the second-last, although the closing European Dream ensured he only won by a length.
Nicholls continued: “He will probably dodge the Festival unless it is testing ground and I think the Imperial Cup later in the season could be the race for him.”
Chomba Womba took the partybets.com Anne Boleyn Mares Only Hurdle just as she was entitled to at odds of 1-5.
Nicky Henderson’s runner claimed by far the best form on offer and although there was only a modest entry for a race designed to enhance paddock value, her trainer was not complaining.
She strolled home by nine lengths from her nearest market rival De Blanc and now looks set for the inaugural David Nicholson Mares Only Hurdle, for which Cashmans cut her to 6-1 from 8s.
“That would be the logical race,” said Henderson.
“We would have been thinking about chasing this season but these mares races have opened up quite beautifully.
“Mick Fitzgerald said she was a bit stuffy so we might look for another race before then.”
Squadron was another to justify a short price as he made a winning debut at 6-4 in the Fraser Steele Juvenile Novices’ Hurdle.
A reasonable stayer on the Flat for Amanda Perrett, he has made the switch to Alan King and travelled well enough under Robert Thornton.
However, he was fairly workmanlike when push came to shove and had to be driven out to record a length and three-quarters success over Serhaaphim.
The layers were not over-impressed and Squadron is around 33-1 for the Triumph Hurdle.
“I think he got there too soon, but it is a good start and he’ll improve,” said King. “There are no big plans.”
More flashy was Backbeat’s return at 28-1 in the partybets.com Handicap Chase.
The 11-year-old has never recaptured the smart novice chase form he showed for David Elsworth since his transfer to Howard Johnson.
But this was no mean training performance to return from nearly 13 months off as he ran his rivals ragged under Denis O’Regan.