Paul Nicholls has reigned supreme over the National Hunt world for the past few years and he once again has a strong string heading to the Cheltenham Festival next month with plenty of contenders in most of the major races. Nicholls himself though has signalled out Master Minded as his most likely winner next month, and that is despite the fact that he has the odds-on Big Buck's heading back to the World Hurdle.
Master Minded is already a dual winner of the Champion Chase having been too strong in 2008 and 2009 and Nicholls is tipping the horse to make it number three in 2011. Big Zeb took the Champion Chase crown off of Master Minded last season but following a breathing op over the summer he has returned to somewhere near his best with three consecutive wins to his name. The Tingle Creek win was especially impressive as Master Minded destroyed the field with a flawless round of jumping and on that form he will take all the beating at the Festival.
A third win in four years for Master Minded would be very special but it would be foolish to rule out Big Zeb who was so impressive last season when claiming the win. The Colm Murphy trained horse perhaps lacks the class of Master Minded when the Paul Nicholls horse is at his very best but remains excellent around Cheltenham and a major threat this season.
The Cheltenham Festival is of course the biggest week of the year for Jumps Racing and the highlight on Day 2 of the meeting will be as always the Queen Mother Champion Chase with the 2011 race looking as mouth-watering as ever. At this stage Master Minded is the clear favourite for the race but as well as Big Zeb there is a number of other in form challengers set to take him on at Cheltenham.
Somersby ran Master Minded very close last time out in the Victor Chandler Chase at Ascot and is being backed, while Golden Silver defeated Big Zeb last time in the Tied Cottage Chase over in Ireland cannot be ruled out as the betting suggests.