Big Zeb sizes up Cheltenham hopes

Fragile Irish challenger roars back from Sandown disaster with victory at Punchestown

Admirers of Big Zeb might almost have found something propitious in the fact that Punchestown was only passed fit for racing after a third inspection yesterday morning. For here is a horse whose fragile jumping makes him seem perennially on thin ice, no matter how serenely he can sometimes go about his work.

He certainly cut a pretty convincing dash in the Tied Cottage Chase, disposing of Golden Silver in a manner that permits no doubt as to Ireland's best hope for the Queen Mother Champion Chase at the Cheltenham Festival next month. Big Zeb is now as short as 5-1 in places, but some punters will not yet find it in their hearts to pardon his record in Britain so far – comprising a nasty fall in the same race last season, just as he was beginning to make ground, and that horribly timid exhibition behind Twist Magic at Sandown in December.

Still, even the harshest judges should acknowledge the cogency between Colm Murphy's explanation for that display, and his skill in restoring the horse's confidence in the meantime. Murphy blamed himself for Sandown, but on the same basis he should not be too modest about the transformation in Big Zeb yesterday.

This time he jumped each fence better than the previous one, superb when leaping past Mansony four out and discovering fresh energy for the remaining obstacles even as he began to idle in front. Golden Silver, in fairness, himself seemed lacking the gusto of his success at the Leopardstown Christmas meeting. Jumping lethargically, he was getting reminders by halfway, and when he came back on the bridle to challenge he did so only briefly. In the end Big Zeb won by seven lengths, Golden Silver just holding Mansony for second.

"I'm delighted with that," Murphy said. "He's had his problems in the past, but I think we've ironed them out now. We'll freshen him up, and then it's on to Cheltenham. It's nice to be going over there on the back of that. We probably shouldn't have sent him over to Sandown – I blame myself for that. But we've done a lot of schooling with him, and his jumping was brilliant."

The Co Wexford trainer, who confirmed that Big Zeb had required treatment for a bony growth in a pastern, added that his best mare, Voler La Vedette, is recuperating well from problems of her own. Scratched from the Irish Champion Hurdle after pulling a muscle, she will now be kept to the company of her own sex in the David Nicholson Mares' Hurdle at the Festival.

When at his most robust, both physically and mentally, there is no doubt that Big Zeb has the raw ability to cause problems for Master Minded. That was exactly what he was doing at Punchestown last April, after all, until his jumping frailties intruded at the last fence. Since their meeting at Sandown, of course, Twist Magic has continued to re-invent himself and he remains preferred in most lists as second favourite behind his stablemate, Master Minded – Ladbrokes typical in going 13-8, 6-1 and 7-1.

That state of affairs merely reiterates the phenomenal strength in depth of their trainer, Paul Nicholls, who left Festival Trials Day on Saturday with a still tighter grip on the Totesport Cheltenham Gold Cup itself. Taranis, his Argento Chase winner, seems unlikely to intervene in the showdown between Kauto Star and Denman, but certainly makes it possible that Nicholls could become sole tenant of the podium.

Not that Nicholls proved invincible on Saturday, when he had favourites turned over in both novice hurdles. At least he got them on the track, which is more than anyone managed at Doncaster after the return of deep frost. Both today's jumps meetings have been abandoned, while the loss of Hereford yesterday typified the complications being created for trainers – Somersby being so denied a rehearsal for the Irish Independent Arkle Trophy. Henrietta Knight now hopes to run him at Doncaster on Saturday.

Turf account: Chris McGrath

Nap

Penrod Ballantyne (5.20 Wolverhampton) Sent off 66-1 for his debut in what looked a decent maiden at Leicester last autumn, but was still going nicely – and shaping to challenge – when badly impeded. Could prove a cut above his rivals.

Next best

Claddagh (3.50 Wolverhampton)

Starts life in handicaps off a modest rating and could come to life here, having been green on his debut and laboured since in two runs on Southwell's more demanding surface.

One to watch

Rebel Dancer (P J Hobbs) has been allowed to find his feet in three spins over hurdles, showing enough at Ffos Las recently to suggest that he may have more to offer than the handicapper indicated in his initial rating.

Where the money's going

Blackstair Mountain was an impressive winner for Willie Mullins at Punchestown yesterday. Introduced at 14-1 by Totesport in the Spinal Research Supreme Novices' Hurdle.

Voices
The Sumatran tiger, endemic to the Indonesian island of Sumatra, is an endangered species
voicesJonathon Porritt: The wild tiger population is thought to have dropped by 97 per cent since 1900
News
news
Arts and Entertainment
Story line: Susanoo slays the Yamata no Orochi serpent in the Japanese version of a myth dating back 40,000 years
arts + entsApplying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
Life and Style
Popular plonk: Lambrusco is selling strong
Food + drinkNaff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
Gardai wait for the naked man, who had gone for a skinny dip in Belfast Lough
newsTwo skinny dippers threatened with inclusion on sex offenders’ register as naturists criminalised
News
Shake down: Michelle and Barack Obama bump knuckles before an election night rally in Minnesota in 2008, the 'Washington Post' called it 'the fist bump heard round the world'
newsThe pound, a.k.a. the dap, greatly improves hygiene
Arts and Entertainment
La Roux
music
Arts and Entertainment
Graham Fellows as John Shuttleworth
comedySean O'Grady joins Graham Fellows down his local Spar
News
people
News
Ross Burden pictured in 2002
people
News
Elisabeth Murdoch: The 44-year-old said she felt a responsibility to 'stand up and be counted’'
media... says Rupert Murdoch
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Extras
indybest
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Junior / Graduate Application Support Engineer

£26000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A highly successful international media organ...

QA Manager - North Manchester - Nuclear & MOD - £40k+

£35000 - £41000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: QA Manager -...

Property Finance Partner

Very Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: LONDON - BANKING / PROPERTY FINANCE - ...

Agile Tester

£28000 - £30000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: An ambitious...

Day In a Page

A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

A new Russian revolution

Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

Standing my ground

If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
The man who dared to go on holiday

The man who dared to go on holiday

New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

The Guest List 2014

Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

Jokes on Hollywood

With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

Voted for by the British public, the artworks on Art Everywhere posters may be the only place where they can be seen
Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

Blanche Marvin reveals how Tennessee Williams used her name and an off-the-cuff remark to create an iconic character
Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

Websites offering your ebooks for nothing is only the latest disrespect the modern writer is subjected to, says DJ Taylor
Edinburgh Fringe 2014: The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee

Edinburgh Fringe 2014

The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee
Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

The woman stepping down as chair of the Heritage Lottery Fund is worried