Master Minded is right back in the mix for top two-mile honours this term after notching a wide-margin triumph on his seasonal bow at Ascot.
Paul Nicholls’ dual champion chaser lost his air of invincibility last season after being beaten twice at Cheltenham, and connections were anxious to see how he fared on his return in the Amlin 1965 Chase.
While a rib injury excused his defeat to Well Chief last November, his tame resignation of his Queen Mother Champion Chase crown in March had raised plenty of questions.
However, Nicholls opted to give the seven-year-old a breathing operation during the summer and that decision paid immediate dividends as the 5-6 favourite bounced back to his best, seeing out the two-mile-three-furlong trip seemingly with ease.
Travelling well throughout, he moved up to challenge Albertas Run three fences from home and a proper battle looked set to ensue but as Master Minded ran down the fence slightly, Albertas Run clattered into it, giving Tony McCoy a nasty spill.
That left Master Minded well clear of the field and Noel Fehily just had to pop him over the last two fences in the straight to run out a 16-length winner over I’msingingtheblues.
Nicholls was at Haydock, where he said: “He travelled brilliantly and jumped brilliantly – he obviously got the trip really well too.
“Noel gave him a fantastic ride – there’s a lot of pressure riding these horses and he’s doing a great job.
“I’m chuffed to bits, we’re back in business.
“One day, Clive (Smith, owner) would love to go for the King George and maybe we will next year.
“His next race will be the Tingle Creek at Sandown, and we’ll sit down and discuss what we do next after that.
“He can breathe now and that will have done him the world of good and given him confidence, it was great to see him finish his race like that.
“Noel has come in since Ruby (Walsh) has been hurt, you need an experienced jockey and he has done a great job.”
McCoy, who had taken two falls before parting company with Albertas Run, was stood down for the remainder of the afternoon after badly bruising his leg.
Fehily and Nicholls hit the mark again as Silviniaco Conti announced his arrival in the big time with a seven-length verdict in the Coral Hurdle.
The four-year-old was making the leap from novice company but as 13-8 favourite Zaynar failed to sparkle, Fehily did not have to work too hard to hold the challenge of Karabak.
William Hill installed the winner at 6-1 for the World Hurdle and 14-1 for the Champion Hurdle.
Fehily said: “That was very exciting, he travelled so well – I think he could be very, very good.
“He’ll get further in time, but he’s quick enough for two (miles) now I think.”
Nicholls’ assistant Dan Skelton added: “We’ve got a young horse there with a big future, but he’s a chaser in the making and we must look after him. Paul will do that accordingly.”
The duo then further enhanced their tally as Woolcombe Folly justified 7-2 favouritism in the Carey Group Handicap Chase.
Cinderella Rose (8-1) put up an impressive performance to land the Ivan The Terrible Mares’ Handicap Hurdle under Sean Quinlan.
Kim Bailey’s charge had finished a disappointing third when sent off odds-on favourite last time but made amends in style with a three-and-a-quarter-length verdict over Devon Native.
Bailey said: “She’s a really nice mare – it was my fault she got beat last time as I ran her back too quickly after her win at Towcester.
“The whole family are stayers so we had to go up in trip, any horse that wins over two miles at Towcester has to go up in trip.
“Sean has done a fantastic job for us, he’s ridden lots of our winners this season.
“I’ve got a fantastic band of loyal owners, we’ve got a better class of horse this season and we have had a great start, it makes a big difference.
“The whole team behind me at home are great, you can’t do it without them.”
Time For Spring (10-1) made it second time lucky over obstacles in the Barrett Steel Novices’ Hurdle.
A point-to-point winner in Ireland, Charlie Longsdon’s charge stepped up from his initial second at Stratford last month to win by an untroubled four and a half lengths.
Teddy’s Reflection (14-1) was another to make a striking impression as he pulled five lengths clear in the BAM Construct UK Novices’ Handicap Chase.
Twentyfourcarat (11-1) made every yard of the running under an enterprising ride from Timmy Murphy to take home the honours in the closing Guy Salmon Standard Open National Hunt Flat Race.