Big Zeb Set to Tie Up Opponents Again; Murphy Admits He Could Not Be Happier Ahead of Tied Cottage
Byline: JOHN MARTIN The inside track on racing
BIG ZEB is the big draw at Punchestown, this afternoon, when last year's Queen Mother Champion Chase winner again puts his reputation on the line in the Boylesports.com Tied Cottage Chase. The Grade Two chase has a Grade 1 line-up for its first running under the Boylesports banner and the bookmaking backers must be well pleased with the County Kildare racecourse's promotion of the event.
The two-mile Chase is complemented on the seven-race programme with the latest renewal in the Grade Two Novice Hurdle (carrying the tag of Moscow Flyer with which the track has so many connections).
Another name synonymous with Punchestown is that of Enda Bolger and the master of the banks course here will be strongly represented again in the Glenfarclas Cross-Country. Also to be run is the Punchestown Grand National Trial.
And, endeavouring to make sure that it all goes ahead in the face of the forecast for plummeting temperatures, Punchestown are to be the first to employ newly-devised protective covering for the track.
Big Zeb took this Punchestown chase en route to victory at the Cheltenham Festival last year and will be looking to take the same route this time around. Colm Murphy's charge is a general second favourite for the Cheltenham major behind Master Minded.
A combination of Paul Nicholls' star's less-than-emphatic win last time and a win for Big Zeb this afternoon should see the pair vie for favouritism in mid-March.
Murphy says of Big Zeb: 'Last year a couple of things didn't go to plan, so we felt we were playing catch-up in our preparations. This time around, I am more pleased with the way that things are going. Big Zeb has been in great form and we could hardly be happier. It's fingers-crossed now.'
Last year's Cheltenham Arkle winner Sizing Europe is the closest challenger to Murphy's star with the bookmakers and his trainer Henry de Bromhead says: 'He has not run since Down Royal but he is fresh and well. He likes Punchestown and his running here will go a way towards helping us decide on his target. Our options are open at the moment.'
Slightly confusing is that Boylesports also sponsor the Champion Chase at the Punchestown Festival in the spring. That race was won last year by Willie Mullins and his Golden Silver.
This one looks the main threat to Big Zeb in a race in which Mullins has also entered Scotsirish.
Michael O'Leary's Gigginstown House Stud will undoubtedly be major players again in this National Hunt season. Joe Smooth is an interesting entry in the Novice Hurdle. …