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The Mother of all Rivalries resumes

THE IRRESISTIBLE force meets the immovable object, the age-old battle between Ireland and the auld enemy springs to life tomorrow.

Having dethroned England's festival banker twelve months ago, Big Zeb and Master Minded renew rivalries to become the champion two-mile chaser on these islands.

Racing fans love when two horses take each other on for supremacy as they climb the Cheltenham hill.

Market leaders Big Zeb and Master Minded will evoke memories of the great Arkle and Mill House if they jump the last upsides tomorrow in a battle royale.

Big Zeb has more than proved himself as the champion of Ireland since his barn-storming win in last year's Queen Mother.

Despite a surprise defeat in the Tied Cottage Chase at Punchestown on his last start, which connections put down to conditions on the day, Big Zeb is our big hope for second-day solace.

Standing in his way is a horse that was formerly considered the greatest chaser in the world.

Master Minded could finish only fourth behind Big Zeb twelve months ago when sent off as 4-5 favourite in his bid to be the first horse since Badsworth Boy in 1985 to land the race three years running, but Paul Nicholls' charge has won all three starts this season and is beginning to find his form once more.

Ruby Walsh beams when he unsaddles Master Minded in the winner's enclosure.

"He's an incredible horse, everything is so easy. He's better than a machine, he's an aeroplane," Walsh enthused following an easy victory in Grade One company.

"The way he jumps is just amazing, he can jump high into the air and not lose any ground."

Big Zeb will hope to equal the record of Master Minded, Moscow Flyer and Viking Flagship by winning the Queen Mother for a second time when he lines up tomorrow.

There is no greater feeling than getting one over on the British at Cheltenham, and lowering the colours of their former champion for a second time would be a prized victory.

Other notable contenders will fancy their chances at upsetting the apple cart by overturning the last two former champions.

Golden Silver was only sixth last year but is also in better form thanks to a change of tactics by the Willie Mullins stable. Eddie Harty's Captain Cee Bee and last year's Arkle Trophy victor Sizing Europe complete the raiding party.

Nicky Henderson is double-handed with French Opera and Mad Max, while Henrietta Knight's Somersby runs in this race in preference to the Ryanair Chase and got within a short head of Master Minded at Ascot in January.

The Nick Williams-trained Cornas and David Pipe's I'm So Lucky complete the line-up.

Day two of the 100-year-old Festival is a notoriously difficult betting day for punters.

If day one has not gone to plan, chasing your losses in the mine-field that is Queen Mother Champion Chase day could mean a very quiet St Patrick's Day for beleaguered punters.

We only recorded two winners on day two of the Festival last year and our best chance of equalling or bettering that record may rest with the ever unpredictable Champion Bumper.

Though we boast an outstanding record in the race, one must remember that you're placing your hard-earned cash on young, inexperienced horses who have never come close to the atmosphere at the Cotswolds venue.

The Irish have a tremendous record in the race with 14 winners, while trainer Mullins has the best individual haul with six successes.

Mullins has another strong hand this year with Allure Of Illusion and Lord Gale among his entries.

Both won last time out, which is a huge positive, as trends show nine of the last 10 winners won on their preceding starts. Watch out for Mullins' jockey bookings as his son Patrick often gets a good ride in bumper races and won on Cousin Vinny for his father in 2008.

Speaking with seasoned punters around Cheltenham village, they all had one piece of advice -- avoid the handicaps like the plague.



Monkeys

The Coral Cup and the amateur race at the beginning of day two have been earmarked as the main carrier monkeys.

Relying on fledgling riders to get your fancy home in front in the amateur race or hoping your horse can avoid trouble in the cavalry charge that is the Coral Cup is risky business.

The atmosphere in the Cotswolds has been very subdued, with no deck of cards in sight -- the message from the 200,000 descending on Cleeve Hill seems to be bet smart or lose big.

There have been strong whispers around the track for Jessica Harrington's horse Oscars Well in the Neptune Investment Management Novice Hurdle tomorrow after bullish reports from the Moone stable last week.

"He's been something of a forgotten horse," Harrington said last week.

"There is a serious feeling of expectation, but with novices there is the issue of there being no cross-related form.

"If he gets beat, it's simply because the English novices are better. So there is that little bit less pressure."