Suddenly it seems being Big does not look too clever

All of a sudden, the big country is a troubled dominion. There was a brazen incursion at Punchestown yesterday where Big Zeb succumbed to an astonishing blitz of winners for Willie Mullins, and even Big Buck's no longer looks quite so invulnerable. Nobody, certainly, should be making too many assumptions on behalf of the four champions returning to the Cheltenham Festival in March. Ladbrokes are now offering just 4-1 that none of Big Buck's, Big Zeb, Binocular and Imperial Commander manages to retain his crown; and 125-1 that all four can do so.

Paul Nicholls is dismissive of the notion that he might have sleepless nights over the emergence of Grands Crus, whose stunning performance at Cheltenham on Saturday announced him as a legitimate threat to Big Buck's in the Ladbrokes World Hurdle. "With the way he runs, it will be nice to have something to aim at," the champion trainer said breezily.

For Colm Murphy, however, it was difficult to be quite so insouciant after Big Zeb was collared by Golden Silver in the Tied Cottage Chase. Everything seemed to be going to plan as the odds-on favourite took command three out, having joined issue with a couple of really aggressive jumps. It already seemed evident that Sizing Europe was not going to offer anything like the sort of challenge produced by Somersby to Master Minded in a parallel showdown between king and pretender at Ascot the previous weekend. And Golden Silver, the only other feasible danger, had appeared to be lacking in rhythm from an early stage.

But Murphy could not know that Golden Silver was just the first wave of an irresistible tide, all afternoon, for Mullins and Paul Townend. Riding with a confidence increasingly familiar during the absence of Ruby Walsh, Townend gave Golden Silver time to find his feet and, though making little impression leaving the back straight, his mount took off between the last two. Possibly Big Zeb was idling close home as well; either way, Golden Silver got up by half a length.

Big Zeb was eased to 7-2 from 11-4 by William Hill for his defence of the Queen Mother Champion Chase, with Master Minded now 2-1 from 9-4. "He probably jumped too well, to get there when he did," Murphy said. "There was always going to be a day like that, and today was the day. Anyway, we learned plenty and he seems to be OK afterwards."

Golden Silver is 8-1 from 14-1, but Mullins warned that he could go for the Ryanair Chase instead. "Maybe we caught Big Zeb on the hop," he conceded. "He may have just relaxed a bit, and it worked for us."

Ireland's pre-eminent jumps trainer proceeded to saddle another four winners – all but one ridden by Townend – including Gagewell Flyer, who made it three out of three over timber in a Grade Two novice hurdle. The only threat after he struck for home came from the stable's other runner, Earlson Gray, on his first start since arriving from France. "I brought Gagewell Flyer back to two miles to get more experience of a fast-run race into him, and to get him jumping faster," Mullins said. "He'll probably go for the Neptune Novice Hurdle at Cheltenham."

Mullins was thwarted for the one and only time in the fifth race, when Kerb Appeal could manage "just" third of 21 in a handicap hurdle, and the sole surprise about Celtic Folklore's subsequent success in the bumper – coasting clear under the trainer's son, Patrick – was his drift to a starting price of 9-2. The Co Carlow trainer, after all, has long been especially prolific in races of this kind, and it is safe to assume that off-course layers were unimpressed to see their cumulative liabilities extend to 951-1.

"I came here thinking Gagewell Flyer would be my one winner," Mullins said. "Paul was fantastic, and the horses seem in great order."

One thing is guaranteed. With Mourad staking his own claim against Big Buck's, and Hurricane Fly looming into Binocular's field of vision, plenty of other trainers will need the next six weeks to work out as smoothly as yesterday did for Mullins. For uneasy lies the head that wears the crown.

Turf Account


Zaru (4.30 Ayr)

Has shown promise in both starts. Well fancied when third here and then going sweetly for a long way before fading after an absence at Catterick.

Next best

Blackpool Billy (3.25 Ayr)

Looks ahead of this lot. He cruised through his first handicap over fences at Catterick, unable to retrieve ground lost after a blunder two out.

One to watch

Thunderstorm (Philip Hobbs) was well beaten behind a stablemate at Ffos Las but again showed the ability he had exhibited in bumpers and may do better in handicaps over farther.

peopleFrankie Boyle responds to referendum result in characteristically offensive style
Lewis Hamilton will start the Singapore Grand Prix from pole, with Nico Rosberg second and Daniel Ricciardo third
F1... for floodlit Singapore Grand Prix
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvHe is only remaining member of original cast
Arts and Entertainment
tvHighs and lows of the cast's careers since 2004
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Fans hold up a scarf at West Ham vs Liverpool
footballAfter Arsenal's clear victory, focus turns to West Ham vs Liverpool
New Articles
i100... she's just started school
New Articles
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
Arts and Entertainment
musicBiographer Hunter Davies has collected nearly a hundred original manuscripts
New Articles
i100... despite rising prices
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

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

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Primary NQTs required in Lambeth

£117 - £157 per day + Competitive London rates: Randstad Education Group: * Pr...

Cover Supervisor

£75 - £90 per day + negotiable: Randstad Education Group: Are you a cover supe...

Marketing Manager - Leicestershire - £35,000

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (CIM, B2B, MS Offi...

Marketing Executive (B2B and B2C) - Rugby, Warwickshire

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A highly successful organisation wit...

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam