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.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
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

Ashdown Group: Marketing & Sales Manager

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A reputable organisation within the leisure i...

Tradewind Recruitment: Science Teacher

£90 - £140 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: I am currently working in partnersh...

Recruitment Genius: Doctors - Dubai - High "Tax Free" Earnings

£96000 - £200000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Looking for a better earning p...

Recruitment Genius: PHP Developer

£32000 - £36000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A rapidly expanding company in ...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee
World War Z author Max Brooks honours WW1's Harlem Hellfighters in new graphic novel

Max Brooks honours Harlem Hellfighters

The author talks about race, legacy and his Will Smith film option to Tim Walker
Why the league system no longer measures up

League system no longer measures up

Jon Coles, former head of standards at the Department of Education, used to be in charge of school performance rankings. He explains how he would reform the system
Valentine's Day cards: 5 best online card shops

Don't leave it to the petrol station: The best online card shops for Valentine's Day

Can't find a card you like on the high street? Try one of these sites for individual, personalised options, whatever your taste