Master ride: patient Geraghty strikes as gutsy Dee lands big prize
Consistency has never been an issue for Master Dee, having finished in the first three on all 20 starts before Saturday's £100,000 Betdaq Handicap Chase, but career start number 21 brought a much-deserved big-race victory in the colours of Paul and Clare Rooney.
And victory could not have been better timed for the owners, who 24 hours earlier had seen their Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle hope If The Cap Fits ruled out of the festival through injury.
Trained by Fergal O’Brien, Master Dee had trouble holding onto the coattails of the leaders early on under Barry Geraghty, but as the race progressed he found his comfort zone and, having swept to the front with a bold leap at the last, powered clear for a three-and-three-quarter-length victory over Ballykan.
"Barry said he was flat out all the way but I'm very lucky to have the staff I have around me to produce the horse in this form having had three months off," said the winning trainer, who like his namesake Aidan O'Brien made clear his is a team effort.
"Barry gave him a great ride but he had the horse underneath him. We could have gone to Ascot last week but the owners stuck by me and gave me the confidence to wait and come here and I'm delighted for Paul and Clare."
He added: "He's an unbelievable horse and has never been out of the first three. He's a model of consistency and even when things are not going his way he sticks his head down and tries."
Having scooped a first Grade 1 win with Poetic Rhythm in the Challow Hurdle over Christmas, this is shaping into O'Brien's best season and his latest success took him to within five of last year's best total of 60 wins in a season.
"We've got to keep looking forward," said the trainer. "We need to have more winners and better winners, but I've got fantastic people around me and I'm just a small cog."
The winner's sole Cheltenham Festival entry comes in the Brown Advisory & Merriebelle Stable Plate, for which bookmakers offer between 12-1 and 16-1, although Aintree is perhaps looking more likely.
O'Brien said: "I've got to speak to Paul and Clare but Barry thought perhaps Cheltenham wouldn't be his track, which is what we've always thought. We'll enjoy today first but possibly Aintree could be the next target."