Murphy gets big boost from Zeb
Big Zeb bounced back to his best form at Punchestown yesterday to secure a return ticket to the Cheltenham Festival for the Queen Mother Champion Chase, much to the delight and relief of his trainer Colm Murphy.
The Gorey handler and local owner Pat Redmond were very happy to see the Oscar gelding turning in a power-packed display under regular partner Barry Geraghty to quicken away from odds-on Golden Silver.
A casualty two out in the Tied Cottage Chase at the Kildare venue a year ago, Big Zeb made amends as he took charge at the fourth last from Mansony which had been the beneficiary of his tumble that day.
Jumping to his left into the back straight and losing valuable momentum as a consequence, Golden Silver nevertheless became competitive for Ruby Walsh heading to the straight until the winner asserted from two out.
"It's on to Cheltenham again now. He came here fresh and well after his break since Sandown as he's had little problems," said Murphy, whose runners had generally been out of luck for a while.
Colm revealed that his stable star was found to be suffering from what in human terms would correspond to an arthritic condition when he disappointed badly behind Twist Magic in the Tingle Creek Chase.
"We found he had an active ring bone in his off-fore which obviously didn't help at Sandown and he may be a spring horse," said the trainer, who later intends to bring the horse back to Punchestown for the Kerrygold Champion Chase in which he failed by a head to Master Minded last April.
That Paul Nicholls inmate is trading as the 7/4 ante-post favourite at the moment with William Hill to complete a hat-trick in the Queen Mother event for which Big Zeb was cut to 7/1 from 10/1 by that firm.
The other Grade Two event of the fixture was the novice hurdle commemorating former Queen Mother hero Moscow Flyer and Saludos was all the rage to score on behalf of that legendary performer's trainer Jessica Harrington.
While Saludos managed to decisively turn around Leopardstown placings with top weight Hollo Ladies, the favourite was unable to match strides throughout the closing stages with 'Shark' Hanlon's stable star Luska Lad.
And it transpired the 7/2 victor is rather more effective on a right-hand track than going the other way, as at Naas recently where he gave Andrew McNamara a heavy fall that sidelined the Limerick rider for a week.
"He's definitely much better running this way so we'll probably miss out on Cheltenham. There's plenty of prize money to be won in this country and it makes sense to keep him at home for the festivals at Fairyhouse and here," Hanlon said.
The marathon Grand National Trial produced a real turn-up when Straffan trainer Derek Barry's Inoma James (16/1) made a mockery of his lowly rating to oblige at 16/1 in the hands of claimer Conor Maxwell.
The opening Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase for the P P Hogan Memorial Cup likewise served up a shock outcome as John Cullen guided 20/1 chance Another Jewel to victory over former Aintree Grand National victor Silver Birch, while Ruby Walsh landed the handicap chase for father Ted on Seabass.