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Zeb gets back in champion frame

The Tingle Creek flop of Big Zeb was a distant memory following the feature Grade 2 Tied Cottage Chase at Punchestown yesterday as Colm Murphy's continually classy nine-year-old son of Oscar bounced back to winning ways in emphatic fashion.

It was a 33-length defeat by Twist Magic, a second string of Paul Nicholls' for the Champion Chase, that raised a question mark over Big Zeb's credentials to return and lower the colours of Master Minded at the big March festival, a feat of which he came within a head of doing at Punchestown last April.

However, Murphy admitted following that run that Big Zeb was a better horse fresh and that he would have needed longer after his facile Navan success in November, and the trainer's assessment was proved as he comprehensively beat dual Grade 1 winner Golden Silver by seven lengths yesterday.

Big Zeb was a faller in last year's Champion Chase around Cheltenham but will now head to the Cotswolds in much better order, with two notable victories this season and a clean round of jumping, to boost his confidence.

Murphy said afterwards: "I am delighted with that and we will keep him nice and fresh now for the Champion Chase at Cheltenham.

"He has had a few little problems but I think I have ironed them out now, he has had treatment for ringbone on his off four and that seems to have done the trick."

The Wexford handler, who is no stranger to Cheltenham glory after the exploits of Brave Inca, added: "He probably shouldn't have ran in the Tingle Creek. I blame myself for that. But he jumped great today and it is nice to be going over to Cheltenham on the back of that -- it will give him confidence. His jumping was brilliant and we've done a lot of schooling with him at home."

Murphy is also set to be represented at the Cheltenham Festival by mare Voler La Vedette, whose chance of a Champion Hurdle target were majorly reduced when she missed the Irish Champion Hurdle last weekend.

Yesterday, he confirmed that the six-year-old is back on course for the festival however, but will be sent for the David Nicholson Mares Hurdle instead.

"She seems A1, but we will take our time with her and she will go straight to Cheltenham for the mares' race. I think she has a realistic chance of winning that whereas she only has a realistic chance of being placed in the Champion Hurdle. She has been on the walker and will be ridden out in the morning."

In the Moscow Flyer Novice Hurdle it was Shark Hanlon's Luska Lad who overturned the more fancied Saludos to claim the spoils in the hands of Andrew McNamara, who received a nasty fall when the duo last combined at Naas.





BREATHER

Despite the success, Hanlon admitted that Cheltenham was unlikely as according to McNamara the four-time bumper winner is, "two stone better going that way around (right handed)".

Hanlon said: "He's much better going that way and if I had my way, he'd steer clear of Cheltenham and wait for the festival here. I would give him a breather and bring him back for that.

"I don't know why but he hangs when he is going left handed and I've had him checked out from top to bottom but we can't find anything."

The Carlow trainer concluded: "He will make a lovely chaser in time. When he was loose at Naas he jumped the two fences in the straight and I had him schooled before for a point to point so that will be his game next season. He's a great jumper."

The Derek Barry-trained Inoma James booked his place in the Midlands National at Uttoxeter following his win in the Grade C Grand National Trial at Punchestown yesterday under valuable five-pound claimer Conor Maxwell.

Maxwell sent the 16/1 chance to the front four out kicking clear of runner-up Hume River to record a seven-length success.

Ruby Walsh completed a double on the day as his father Ted's string continued in good form and Seabass gained justified compensation for his recent final fence exit at Navan when landing the 2m4f handicap chase, while the double was completed aboard Blackstairsmountain for Willie Mullins in the maiden hurdle, holding Recital Public by five-lengths.

Andrew Leigh had to be at his very strongest to score aboard the Jessica Harrington-trained Badgerlaw, while the concluding bumper went to Tom Taaffe and Cian Hughes with Silent Picture who supplied Hughes with his first winner on the racecourse.


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