Queen Mother Champion Chase winner Big Zeb is set to return to Cheltenham on March 16 in top form to defend his title after coming through his final piece of serious work in fine style before attempting to land back-to-back renewals of the two-mile chasing championship, writes Elliot Slater.
Colm Murphy’s imposing 10-year-old was schooled over six fences at Leopardstown racecourse on Monday and jockey Barry Geraghty returned to inform connections that the horse had done everything right and is spot on to defend his title. Working alongside a stable companion, Big Zeb jumped fast and with accuracy and Murphy reported that he couldn’t be happier with him.
This will be the Oscar gelding’s third visit to Cheltenham for the Queen Mother Champion Chase. In 2009 he was still going nicely in the race eventually won by his arch-rival Master Minded, when coming to grief at the fourth from home. That was the last time that Big Zeb has hit the deck, and in 2010 he showed just what a smart operator he is when proving far too good for countryman Forpadydeplasterer, running out a six-length winner with Kalahari King third, and Master Minded only fourth. The Queen Mother Champion Chase odds suggest he could make two in a row.
This term things have gone well in the main for Murphy’s pride and joy, winning on his seasonal bow in the Grade 2 Friends of Navan Fortria Chase, (beating Golden Silver), then defeating the same horse a month later in the Grade 1 Paddy Power Dial-A-Bet Chase at Leopardstown’s Christmas meeting. Golden Silver took his revenge on Big Zeb last time out in the Tied Cottage Chase at Punchestown to score by half-a-length and is likely to also be in the line-up at Cheltenham.
Master Minded, unbeaten in three starts this term is now available at 11/4f in a place in the Champion Chase ante-post market, whilst Big Zeb is generally on offer at 3/1 but can be backed at 10/3 in the odd spot.