WHAT BEGAN as a 'sure-thing' whisper at the week's outset had materialised into a gale-force bellow by the off-time, before Liz Doyle's latest Cheltenham Champion Bumper hopeful proved to have read the script and ran away with the concluding www.leopardstown. (Pro/Am) Flat Race on Saturday afternoon.
Having produced such exciting young prospects as 'Al Ferof', 'Cheltenian' and more recently 'Mac's Return', Doyle unleashed 'Le Vent D'Antan' (7/4) to land a massive gamble and he delivered in good style under Mikey Fogarty, going on to beat 'Private Treasure' by six lengths.
Doyle revealed afterwards, ' We bought him as a yearling in France and his grandmother is 'Pebbles', which is very interesting. He won a schooling bumper on heavy ground and everyone was wanting to know what he was. A group of friends of my sister's, in London, asked me if I had a horse that might end up in Cheltenham, a few years ago, and I said I did, but he was only two at the time and they would have to wait 13 or 14 months on him. They did it and here we are.
'I'd say he'll go straight to Cheltenham and have a racecourse gallop somewhere. A better race would suit him and a little better ground.
'Everything he's done since he arrived in the yard has been exceptional but until they put it in ink you never know. He works as well as 'Cheltenian', he always screamed that he was a good horse while 'Al Ferof' was quieter.'
Stan James make 'Le Vent D'Antan' 6/1 favourite for the Cheltenham Bumper but Paddy Power goes 14s. Also, jockey Tom O'Brien got a two-day ban for the whip on the third home, 'Dawerann'.
In what was another good weekend for Wexford racing connections, Conor O'Dwyer trained his first winner in seven months when A.P. McCoy got 'Competitive Edge' (10/3) up by a head for owner J.P. McManus in the concluding handicap chase at Sunday's Leopardstown meeting. O'Dwyer also had 'Uncle Tom Cobley' (14/1) finish third in the same race.
Earlier in the day, Colm Murphy's 'Shariyan' (7/2) survived a lastfence scare when scoring in the Tote Price Promise Handicap Hurdle under Robbie Power by a length and a half from 'Sammy Black'.
Meanwhile, Murphy tells a good story about 'Big Zeb', who retired last week. It was the summer of 2006 and 'Brave Inca' was revelling in the spotlight that shadowed his every move in the aftermath of his Cheltenham Champion Hurdle victory.
Around Murphy's yard on the plains around Killenagh, a few miles outside Ballycanew, 'Inca' was known as The Boss. He swaggered about the premises with an arrogance that he famously carried with him into battle. His trainer recalls him having little or no time for any other animal, except one, 'Big Zeb'. The young 'Zeb' was the only horse 'Inca' would go for a gallop in the field with and more tellingly, he was one of the few that could keep up with him when in full flight.
When it was announced last week that time had been called on the career of the Pat Redmondowned Queen Mother Champion Chase 2010 winner, the tributes poured in on the internet's social media sites for a hugely-popular competitor. 'Zeb' won 13 of his 33 starts and earned over £813,000 in prizemoney for his connections. Murphy took the decision to retire the 12-year-old due to problems with the horse's joints.
'Zeb' had not responded well enough to treatment after he finished fourth to 'Sizing Europe' in the Dial-A-Bet Chase at Leopardstown over Christmas.
'It's a pity, but unfortunately he's had a few niggly problems,' Murphy said. 'He didn't come out of Leopardstown as well as we'd hoped. His joints are troubling him a little bit. He deserves his retirement now. The decision was made for us. We gave him a bit of time, but he still hadn't responded to treatment so we are retiring him for his own sake. He has been so good to us so it's the right thing to do. We had many good days but the Queen Mother was the icing on the cake. I imagine he'd go home to his owner, Pat Redmond.'
'Big Zeb' was Horse Racing Ireland's Horse of the Year in 2010.