McCoy the man as Nicholls hopes to master mind another victory
Champion Trainer Paul Nicholls is looking to make his mark yet again on one of the season's big races as he aims to win his sixth Seasons Holidays Tingle Creek Trophy in only ten years.
Nicholls's 1/2 favourite Master Minded will attempt to give the trainer a fourth victory in four years after dual Gold Cup winner Kauto Star prevailed in the race in 2005 and 2006 and Twist Magic jumped to victory last year.
The two-time Champion Chase winner Moscow Flyer won in 2003 and 2004 for Jessica Harrington, adding to the illustrious list of former winners of the Tingle Creek that often go on to win even bigger races.
Nicholls currently has three other runners in the race as well as Master Minded including last year's winner Twist Magic 8/1, Takeroc 8/1 and Natal 25/1.
Howard Johnson's Tidal Bay, who won the Arkle at Cheltenham and is 3/1 second favourite, looks the most likely to thwart Nicholls's plans. Tidal Bay has won 10 of his 15 starts and was second in the other five including victory over Takeroc in Grade One John Smith's Chase at Aintree which has been won by some excellent horses like Well Chief, Ashley Brook and Twist Magic.
There is no doubt Master Minded's facile victory in the Champion Chase last year was simply stunning but he was then well beaten by Voy Por Ustedes at Aintree and has not been seen since. If he runs like he did at Cheltenham then the short price will be justified but at the current odds Tidal Bay looks a better bet.
Tidal Bay has done nothing wrong in his career having completed every start, should have a fair bit of improvement in him and Master Minded will have to be at the top of his game to fend off Tidal Bay's challenge.
Interestingly, Master Minded will be ridden by the in-form Tony McCoy, replacing Sam Thomas who seems to have picked up a habit of falling from his mounts recently.
This will only benefit the Nicholls horse. If the field is small and becomes a more tactical race then having McCoy in the saddle will prove a tactical master stroke as his wealth of racing experience far outweighs that of the young Thomas.
Nicky Henderson who is in blistering form at the moment has Jack The Giant 7/1 and My Petra 25/1 entered in the race. Henderson has become an expert at scooping the big races on a Saturday and his stable is always firing in winners in December so his runners are always worth a second look.
Jack The Giant who has won his last four starts impressively, and looks a horse to keep onside, may well not run if the ground is too soft. My Petra has a lot to find on form and the price reflects his chances. Until the runners are confirmed it may be best to look elsewhere.
Favourites have an excellent record in the race and there looks to be about five horses at the head of the market that realistically come into the reckoning.
Master Minded is a worthy favourite but a short price while Tidal Bay will most likely pose the biggest challenge. However there is a feeling that Tidal Bay would be better over further than two miles.
As he has destroyed most of the fields he has come up against we simply do not know exactly how good the Tidal Bay is but we are sure to find out on Saturday.
Jack The Giant and Twist Magic are not a certain runners if the ground comes up soft which leaves one of Paul Nicholls's runners, Takeroc at 8/1, as the most viable each way selection at the current prices.
It looks certain he will take his place in the line-up and, although has a fair bit to find with Master Minded and Tidal Bay, the five year old has bags of potential and we could see a big run from him. He will go off shorter if some of the other market leaders get pulled out so looks a decent each way bet.
It will be fascinating to watch who takes their place on Saturday for the chance of early season glory and, with former winners of this race often going on to win some valuable prizes, we may have the pleasure of seeing a truly special clash between some of the two-mile chasing greats.