BIG ZEB may be in the veteran stage as he approaches 12 years of age, but Colm Murphy has high hopes the former champion chaser will make a bold bid for a fourth successive victory in the Fortria Chase at Navan on Sunday.
Having prevailed by two lengths from Noble Prince 12 months ago, the 2010 Queen Mother Champion Chase hero went on to record a sixth Grade One success of his career at Leopardstown's Christmas meeting.
While he didn't win thereafter, he showed he is no back number by making the frame on his three subsequent starts, finishing third in the respective champion chases at Cheltenham and Punchestown.
"We're going there hopeful," his Wexford handler reported yesterday ahead of the two-mile Navan Grade Two.
"I can say he has never been better, but he has never been 11 (running in this race) before, so we're hoping for a nice run.
"It has been a lucky race for him, but I suppose it depends on what's in it. He seems very well and we'll be disappointed if he can't put up a really big show."
Among the veteran's potential rivals are his old foe Sizing Europe, Peter Casey's exciting second-season chaser Flemenstar and Noel Meade's former triple Grade One winner Realt Dubh.
However, Henry de Bromhead has already said Thursday's Clonmel Oil Chase is a more likely target for Sizing Europe and the 2011 champion chaser is among a decent 17-strong entry that has been unveiled for that.
Murphy has put Big Zeb in the Powerstown Park Grade Two, while Tom Cooper's Forpadydeplasterer now has that as an option as well, to go with his Fortria and Paddy Power Gold Cup entries.
Edward O'Grady's Tranquil Sea, winner of the €45,000 Clonmel contest the past two years and successful in the Paddy Power in 2009, could bid for a hat-trick, while Nicky Henderson has put in Quantitativeeasing and Nadiya De La Vega, both of which are also in next weekend's Cheltenham showpiece.
Paul Flynn, meanwhile, has confirmed that Moon Dice will run in the featured two-mile hurdle at Prestbury Park on Sunday week.
Fourth last year after landing a famous Galway Hurdle triumph, the seven-year-old won a novice chase at Cork last time out.
"We were going to stick to chasing with him, but he seems a much better horse this year, so I wanted to give him a crack at this before going back chasing," Longford-based Flynn said.
"He was a bit unlucky last year and the race doesn't look any stronger, so I think he has a good chance. The faster the ground, the better for him."