Big Zeb makes strong case for Champion Chase defence
Big Zeb remains the firm ante-post favourite in all lists to successfully defend the Queen Mother Champion Chase next March, after pleasing his connections and admirers alike with a repeat victory yesterday as undisputed market leader for Navan's Fortria Chase.
The Oscar gelding, in Gorey-based Pat Redmond's colours, delighted his trainer Colm Murphy by lobbing along for Barry Geraghty most of the way and readily picking off Carthalawn from the last fence, as Golden Silver only got going late to split the pair close home.
"This was an ideal introduction and his jumping was spot on. Barry has done a lot of schooling with the horse and he's growing up; he's definitely settling better this year," said Murphy, as he outlined a purely domestic pre-Cheltenham campaign.
Former champion jockey Geraghty was all smiles afterwards as well. "We just did what we had to do out there," he said. "I'm very happy with that performance."
Punchestown Festival hero Golden Silver, which appeared in need of the run, was never really competitive for Paul Townend and the towering Joncol never gave his supporters much hope over this inadequate trip by continually jumping to his right.
Favourite backers, likewise, got it right in the For Auction Novice Hurdle as John 'Shark' Hanlon's strapping Hidden Cyclone blew away his five surviving rivals after the well-backed Prima Vista exited early on and Meitheamh unseated Geraghty before the straight.
The winning trainer, on crutches recuperating from back surgery earlier in the week, was cheered up no end by this extension of the Stowaway gelding's unbeaten record and will be bringing his stable star back to Navan for the Barry and Sandra Kelly Memorial Hurdle.
Prima Vista's tumble at the third came at exactly the same obstacle where stablemate Aitmatov also crashed out when making a determined bid from the front under Davy Condon to repeat last year's Lismullen Hurdle success.
In a remarkable turnaround from that afternoon, Oscar Dan Dan, whose fall two out when disputing the lead paved the way for Aitmatov's surprise win 12 months ago, proved the principal beneficiary in the hands of Townend.
"It was our turn to get lucky, I suppose. I hope this hasn't taken too much out of him because he needed it for the Hatton's Grace Hurdle in Fairyhouse in three weeks," said trainer Tom Mullins, whose brother Willie had withdrawn Mourad with a temperature.
Triple bumper scorer Our Girl Salley made a hugely impressive jumping debut in the opening maiden hurdle for the Wicklow yard of Prunella Dobbs to initiate a double for Geraghty.
Gordon Elliott took the training honours as his landlord Barry Callaghan's Cayo Levantado (12/1) captured the handicap hurdle and Eight Is My Number (8/1) in the Dirar colours foiled bumper hotpot Tom Horn to make it a fixture to forget for Noel Meade.