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Nicky rattled by The Minack

THERE is a theory gaining credence that the cavalry of novice steeplechasers introduced by Nicky Henderson this winter signifies a genuine shift in the sport's balance of power.

Sooner or later, after all, even Kauto Star and Denman will have to lay down their cudgels, and betting on “the novices' Gold Cup” at Cheltenham transparently discloses a stronger hand for Henderson than for Paul Nicholls.

Both the RSA Chase favourites, Long Run and Punchestowns, are housed at Seven Barrows. But while there is no danger of Henderson himself getting carried away, anyone disposed to do so should have joined him here yesterday.

Yes, inevitably, he won the novice chase. But his odds-on favourite for the valuable Sidney Banks Novice Hurdle was unceremoniously dispatched by The Minack, Nicholls's only runner of the day. And while it seems a bit rich, three weeks before the 2010 running, The Minack is already being viewed as a likely type for the 2011 RSA Chase.

After winning both his previous starts over timber, at Sandown and Newbury, Master Of The Hall started 8-13 to see off just four rivals. But he was trying a new trip and, having raced a little too exuberantly through the muddy ground, found the extra half-mile a bridge too far. The Minack, true to his long-term billing, meanwhile kept himself involved with a series of aggressive jumps, and the one remaining challenge evaporated when Sarando all but lost his footing over the last.

Well handled by the season's leading conditional, Nick Scholfield, The Minack was driven out to win by a length, the pair well clear.

He has now won three of his four hurdle starts but Harry Fry, pupil assistant to Nicholls, confirmed that the horse is also pursuing an apprenticeship.

“He's running for experience at the moment,” Fry said. “He'll definitely make an exciting novice chaser next season. In 12 months' time, the RSA Chase could well be his sort of race. He made a bad mistake at the top of the hill, travelling well, when he was beaten at Cheltenham, which ended his chance that day — ut he's a great jumper, and that's what won it for him today. He stays all day and he'd be one for the notebook.”

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