Murphy calls time on Big Zeb's career
BIG ZEB, a brilliant six-length winner of the 2010 Queen Mother Champion Chase, has been retired.
The 12-year-old was last seen finishing a distant fourth to his old foe Sizing Europe in the Dial-A-Bet Chase at Leopardstown over Christmas, 12 months after he won the race for a record third time.
Last term's triumph, his sixth at Grade One level, turned out to be the final of 13 wins in a 33-race career that yielded €1m in prize money.
Remarkably, Big Zeb went on to be third in the Champion Chase at Cheltenham in March 2012, having also finished second in the two-mile feature the year after his famous coup under Barry Geraghty.
However, his latest performance was the tamest of an otherwise stunning career, and trainer Colin Murphy decided not to persist any longer.
"It's a pity," the Co Wexford-based handler admitted of his stable star. "Unfortunately, he has had a few niggly problems. He didn't come out of Leopardstown as well as we'd hoped – his joints are troubling him a little bit. He deserves his retirement.
"He has been so good to us, so it's the right thing to do. Winning the Champion Chase at Cheltenham would have to be the highlight – Leopardstown was lucky for him as well. We had many good days, but the Queen Mother was the icing on the cake.
"I imagine he'd go home to his owner, Pat Redmond, now. He has his own place not too far from here near Gorey."
Redmond purchased the Oscar gelding for €34,000 as a three-year-old. Placed in each of his three bumpers, including when second to fellow subsequent Cheltenham hero Captain Cee Bee at Fairyhouse in 2006, Big Zeb won two of his four hurdle starts, but it was over the bigger obstacles that he excelled, despite taking time to master the art.
A faller at the first in two of his first three chasing starts, he bagged a debut Grade One in the Swordlestown Cup Novice Chase at the 2008 Punchestown Festival. On his seasonal reappearance that winter, he and Murphy's conditional jockey Matt 'Strawberry' O'Connor enjoyed a memorable victory in the Dial-A-Bet, a triumph that would become all the more poignant given that the promising young rider would spend 10 days in a coma following a bad fall at Thurles just a few months later.
Big Zeb's jumping problems then resurfaced with back-to-back falls – including when in contention four out in the 2009 Champion Chase – but he really got his act together thereafter. At Punchestown that April, only a shocking last-fence blunder cost him the scalp of the mighty Master Minded, failing by an agonising head at the death.
Less than a year later, Paul Nicholls' reigning two-time champion was back in fourth when Big Zeb stormed to a thrilling victory from Forpadydeplasterer at Prestbury Park.
In his 29 completed starts, Big Zeb finished out of the first three just twice. "Good to hear my old friend Big Zeb has been retired in good health," Geraghty tweeted.
"We had great days with him." In a reference to his breathtaking style of fencing, Geraghty added a hashtag of "lovedgoinglong".
Meanwhile, Dessie Hughes has confirmed that Our Conor, unbeaten in two hurdling starts to date, will step up to Grade One company for the Spring Juvenile Hurdle at Leopardstown on Hennessy Gold Cup day, ahead of a possible tilt at the Triumph Hurdle.
"Minsk will go for the Deloitte on the same day," he added. "We'll see about Cheltenham after that for both of them."
Tyrone's James Lambe was among the winners at Ayr, with Ballybogey (8/1) benefiting from a typically determined AP McCoy drive in the novice hurdle. The runner-up, Red Admirable, is trained in Antrim by Stuart Crawford.
At Lingfield today, Scary Movie and Liberty Love represent Donegal-based Tom McLaughlin and Shaun Harley respectively, while Jim Bolger's Paene Magnus is the pick of the raiders in Meydan.
A three-time winner at Dundalk in the autumn, the Teofilo four-year-old tackles a nine-furlong handicap on its Dubai bow, with Eddie Lynam responsible for the two other Irish runners, Muck N'Brass and Balmont Mast.