Wednesday 17 January 2018

Trust Geraghty to keep corks popping for raiding party

JA McGrath

Never underestimate the defending champion in any division at Cheltenham. This is sound advice, yet conveniently ignored time and again as punters become almost protective of old favourites which keep on saddling up.

In the case of today's Queen Mother Champion Chase, it is particularly relevant.

In 2005, the great dual-winner Moscow Flyer regained the crown he had lost to Azertyuiop the previous season, while this year, Master Minded, successful in 2008 and '09, will attempt to do something similar. But reigning champion Big Zeb has matured into a fine two-miler and will be extremely hard to beat on ground he is certain to relish.

Barry Geraghty has ridden some fine chasers over the past decade, including Moscow Flyer, and it is significant that he rates Big Zeb in the same category. He will never allow anyone to dismiss the new superstar, for which he has the utmost respect.

The Colm Murphy-trained chaser has won two of his three starts since Cheltenham last year, and he was 'mugged' by the progressive Golden Silver at Punchestown in January.

Ground conditions in those three races were either soft or heavy, but Big Zeb can be formidable when he strikes a sound surface underfoot. For this reason, he is my selection.

You sense that owner Clive Smith has mixed feelings about his Master Minded (and Kauto Star in the Gold Cup) not attracting the same headlines as a couple of years ago. Yet, there is the luxury of having no pressure and also the advantage of being able to secure attractive odds about his horses if he wants to back them.

Master Minded was soundly beaten by Big Zeb last year, but returned to show something of his old sparkle after a long lay-off. He retains plenty of his old ability, but when scraping home from Somersby in January, many saw it as a sign that he was in decline. Possibly, though, it was Somersby on the ascendency.

Robert Thornton has come in for the ride on Somersby, which I believe will prove the main danger to Big Zeb.

Golden Silver has been campaigned extensively this season, and he has thrived. Rapidly improving, the Willie Mullins-trained chaser cannot be dismissed as purely a mudlark, which many will be tempted to do after analysing his record. He could easily figure in the finish without surprising in the least.

In the RSA Chase Time For Rupert can confirm he is one of the brightest novice chasing prospects of recent years. However, Wayward Prince is a big danger, while Ruby Walsh's selected Mikael D'Haguenet also warrants repect. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Selections

1.30 Chicago Grey

2.05 Oscars Well

2.40 Time For Rupert

3.20 Big Zeb

4.00 Bothy (nap)

4.40 Paintball

5.15 Knight Pass

Irish Independent

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