Murphy looks at Big picture

Zeb the latest stable star to carry Colm's hopes at Christmas

Ashley Iveson

Colm Murphy has to pinch himself when looking back at the first 10 years of his training career.

The likeable Irishman certainly had a good grounding for the game, having spent six years under the tutelage of Ballydoyle maestro Aidan O'Brien.

But it is difficult to believe he has only been a trainer in his own right for a decade given the success he has enjoyed.

Every up-and-coming handler needs a horse to kickstart their careers and that horse for Murphy was, of course, Brave Inca.

Beaten in a Gowran Park handicap off a mark of 91 in December 2002, he then went on a seven-race unbeaten run that included victory in what must have been one of the hottest Supreme Novices' Hurdles of all time, edging out subsequent Cheltenham Gold Cup hero War Of Attrition by a neck.

That triumph was one of 10 career victories in Grade One company, with his finest hour coming in the Champion Hurdle back at Cheltenham in 2006.


His partnership with Tony McCoy during the middle part of his story became stuff of legend.

Brave Inca was perhaps not the most flashy of individuals.

He wouldn't travel through a race with the dash of previous Irish great Istabraq, but what he did have in bucket loads was a will to win.

When the going got tough and he made an error which looked certain to end his chance, he and the equally tough McCoy would come back for more.

"Brave Inca was an incredible horse to be associated with," said Co Wexford-based Murphy.

"He was such a hardy horse. You had to nearly kill him on the gallops to get him ready for a race, but he could run every day more or less."

Christmas 2005 turned out to be a particularly special one for Murphy.

As well as Brave Inca winning the December Festival Hurdle at Leopardstown on December 29, Murphy enjoyed big-race success with the brilliant mare Feathard Lady on St Stephen's Day.

The daughter of Accordion made it seven wins from seven starts in the Christmas Hurdle on what unfortunately turned out to be her final racecourse appearance due to injury.

"We've been lucky to have some nice horses run over Christmas and we've had some good winners as well to keep the show on the road," Murphy continued.

"Feathard Lady was a grand mare and it's hard to believe it's five years since she went and won the Christmas Hurdle.

"Looking back on it now, for her to win a Christmas Hurdle in England and Brave Inca to win over here a few days later was something else.

"The Christmas Hurdle was at Sandown that year and one of the lads went over with her on Christmas Eve and we flew over on Boxing Day.

"It was an incredible few days."

While most people enjoy tucking into a turkey dinner and settling down in front of the TV on Christmas Day, the life of a trainer is quite different.

"Christmas Day is just business as usual for us really," said Murphy.

"It's actually one of our busiest days as we try to give as many of the lads the day off as we can, but at the same time, all the horses that are running over the next four or five days have to be out working.

"You sit down to have your Christmas dinner and I suppose you get anxious and hope everything is going to go right.

"The weather played havoc last year as well as we were trying to keep the gallops open and keep everything moving."

When Brave Inca was eventually retired in 2009, Murphy was in need of a replacement and just as the trainer had hoped, Big Zeb stepped up to the plate.

The nine-year-old's ability has never been questioned, but successive falls in the spring of 2009 led many to doubt his ability to make it to the top.

Murphy, however, kept the faith and he showed the racing world just what he is capable of in last season's Queen Mother Champion Chase.

He barely came off the bridle when making a winning return to action at Navan and will -- if the weather lets up -- make his Christmas appearance in Leopardstown's Paddy Power Dial-A-Bet Chase tomorrow.

"Touch wood he's in very good form and I couldn't be happier with him at this stage," Murphy added.


"It's all systems go and we'll have to see what turns up to take him on.

"We've been so, so lucky to have the horses we've had.

"To have Brave Inca was fantastic and to have this lad coming along after him was a blessing."

Murphy insists it is very difficult to compare Brave Inca and Big Zeb, as they are very different horses to train.

"They are chalk and cheese in many ways. Big Zeb is such an easy horse to get ready and he seems to be so much better fresh," said Murphy.

"We're lucky the way things have panned out really as it's a good job Big Zeb is easy to get ready given the way the weather has been.

"We'll probably do the same as last year and try and get a run in between Christmas and Cheltenham.

"He won the Tied Cottage at Punchestown last year and if all went well, that is ideally where you'd want to go with him.

"There was so much said about him before Cheltenham last season, particularly about his jumping.

"Everything just went right for us in the run-up to the race.

"He had a great preparation and we knew he was as well as we'd ever had him.

"It was just a case of whether he was good enough.

"We're so lucky to have Grade One horses in the top race. It's hard to believe how everything has gone really. We've been very fortunate."