Zeb takes Big step on the road back to Cheltenham

Niall Cronin

Champion Chase hero and Horse Racing Ireland's 2010 horse of the year Big Zeb went one step further on the road back to Cheltenham when claiming the Grade One Paddy Power Dial-A-Bet Chase at Leopardstown yesterday.

Colm Murphy's charge won the race two years ago and despite the trainer admitting he was nervous after his current stable star had "missed a vital piece of work," due to the weather, Big Zeb dug deep to see off last year's winner Golden Silver.

The latter was a recent winner at Fairyhouse and just didn't meet the last fence as Paul Townend would have liked to leave Big Zeb and Barry Geraghty to claim the honours.

Murphy was relieved as well as delighted with the performance and he did suggest that if Golden Silver had got to him in the closing stages he would have expected Big Zeb would to go on again.


"It's just a relief that he won as I was a bit worried coming here today. We kept him going every day but there's been no galloping on grass for the last month so he missed that vital piece of work," the Wexford trainer said.

"All going well, we will ease off him again now, take the gas off the pedal and go for the Tied Cottage at Punchestown and then please God back to Cheltenham all being well."

Master Minded has looked back to his very best this season and punters will be relishing the clash of the last two Champion Chase winners should they both get there in one piece in March.

"We eased off him after Navan and Barry also said you'd know he missed the piece of work, but he is relaxed a lot more now and that couldn't have really gone any better. I respect Master Minded -- of course I do -- but probably fear him as much as he fears us."


Barry Geraghty enjoyed a treble on the day, which was completed by The Shepherd for Gordon Elliott but was kicked off by the very classy performance of Our Girl Salley.

Trained in Wicklow by the very astute Prunella Dobbs, Our Girl Salley was another to suffer at the hands of Mother Nature recently but defied that interrupted preparation to win the listed mares hurdle.

"We had a foot and a half of snow in Wicklow and we just couldn't go out on the roads so she actually spent five days walking around a field due to the weather," Dobbs revealed.

"So because of that this really was a sensational performance and I think she must be really very good."

Boylesports went 25/1 for the David Nicholson Mares Hurdle at Cheltenham, which in time could be a big price, but the trainer didn't rule out taking on the opposite sex in the future either although she has no real plans following the yard's first listed success.