Wednesday 21 March 2018

Big Zeb can shine in Fortria

Damien McElroy

Big Zeb should prove the star turn at Navan tomorrow when Cheltenham's latest champion at the minimum trip starts out on a mission designed to peak in the Cotswolds again next March by defending the Fortria Chase.

Barry Geraghty, who gets on particularly well with Colm Murphy's headline-maker, delivered the nine-year-old with a typical late surge to readily justify favouritism in this Grade Two affair a year ago and more of the same is on the cards this time.

Golden Silver, which doesn't appear to relish competing at Cheltenham but triumphed back on more familiar turf in the Punchestown version, has something to find on the ratings, as does Joncol, which likewise scored twice at Grade One level last season.

Big Zeb resumes on an official mark of 174 after romping away from yesterday's principal defector Forpadydeplasterer last March, with Golden Silver pegged at 166 and the towering Joncol up to 161 on foot of Leopardstown's Hennessy Gold Cup triumph.

Navan's patrons have quite an interesting spectacle to savour, presuming the combined talents of Golden Silver and Joncol can muster a decent challenge to Geraghty's mount.

A buzzy type which doesn't require much work to attain a fair level of race-fitness, Big Zeb looks poised to continue where he left off last spring as a clear round should suffice to see off Golden Silver in the hands of Paul Townend, his most successful partner.

Golden Silver's stable companion Mourad, which is in his element over an intermediate distance on a testing surface, should fare better when encountering last year's winner Aitmatov, Jumbo Rio and Oscar Dan Dan in the Lismullen Hurdle.

A decent third to stablemate Quevega at the Punchestown Festival, Mourad previously ran right away from Noel Meade's pair Donnas Palm and Aitmatov in a similar race on heavy going at Fairyhouse and can prevail, presuming he's nicely tuned up for this test.

There are no such concerns where John Hanlon's Hidden Cyclone is concerned in the For Auction Novice Hurdle, and the Stowaway gelding is taken to outpace Hazeymm, Prima Vista and Imperial Shabra, while Saludos can demonstrate the benefit of his Punchestown outing behind Noble Prince in the Beginners' Chase.

Irish Independent

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