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Horse Racing: Master Minded has Champion claims; SANDOWN.

Byline: by Jon Lees

PAUL NICHOLLS may have a job to temper Clive Smith's enthusiasm after Kauto Star's owner watched Master Minded, one of his new acquisitions, post an impressive first victory in Britain yesterday.

With the bank balance boosted by winnings from the Betfair Million, Smith reinvested last spring in three-time Auteuil winner Master Minded and received an immediate return when the five-year-old ran second in a Grade 1 chase.

His British debut began ignominiously at Exeter when unseating Sam Thomas at the third fence, but yesterday Smith could not resist talking of a tilt at the Champion Chase after a comfortable success in the Free pounds 25 Bet Handicap Chase.

"Paul is always looking to the future and will regard Master Minded as one to look after, but I tend to think if they are good enough for Cheltenham now, why not go," said Smith. "I think we should look at the Champion Chase.

"I like to see my horses in the best races and I remember having a good one in the past called Hawthorn Hill Lad. I felt he should have gone to Cheltenham in 1989, but missed it and five weeks later he was dead."

William Hill gave Master Minded a 25-1 quote for the Champion and he is 20-1 for the Ryanair Chase, a potential alternative, depending on how he fares against top company before the festival.

Nicholls said: "He will probably go for the Game Spirit where he will run into reigning champion Voy Por Ustedes so we can see how good we are."

With Breedsbreeze winning the Tolworth Hurdle, Nicholls completed a Sandown treble when Five Dream, another with experience of Auteuil, took the Handicap Hurdle.

The four-year-old could have a Triumph Hurdle entry, but is unlikely to make the line-up on the day. "He will probably dodge the festival unless it is testing ground, but I thought the Imperial Cup might be the ideal race for him," said the trainer.

ChombaWomba, a pounds 160,000 recruit for Nicky Henderson's yard for this season completed a second comfortable win when capturing the Listed Anne Boleyn Mares Only Hurdle under Mick Fitzgerald.

Early novice chasing plans for the seven-year-old have been shelved in favour of pursuing the new David Nicholson Mares Only Hurdle at Cheltenham on March 14.

"The programme has now opened up so beautifully for fillies that it is no point going chasing until we have to," said Henderson.

"She is not a slogger and has buckets of toe, so I wouldn't mind trying her back at two miles. Mick said she was quite stuffy and it wouldn't hurt her to have another run before Cheltenham."

Alan King, who trains the Triumph Hurdle favourite Franchoek, set another young recruit on the path to a possible crack at the same prize when Squadron made a winning debut in the Fraser Steele Juvenile Hurdle.

Squadron, bought out of Amanda Perrett's stable, earned 33-1 quote from William Hill and Blue Square for his length and three-quarters defeat of Serhaaphim, but is set to have another run before long-range plans are determined.

"That was a good start and he will improve for the experience," said King. "There are no plans for him at the moment, but Franchoek will probably run in the Finesse Hurdle, the race Katchit won, at Cheltenham at the end of the month."

Star performance

3Master Minded, only five, but already being spoken of as a Champion Chase contender

Quote of the day

"The David Nicholson is the obvious place. That's what the Duke would want me to do" - Nicky Henderson taking advice from above as he maps out a campaign for mare Chomba Womba


Five Dream (Ruby Walsh) jumps the final flight safely to spring a 16-1 shock in the 2m 1/2 f handicap hurdle EDWARD WHITAKER
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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:The Racing Post (London, England)
Date:Jan 6, 2008
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