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Big Zeb may have eventually established himself as one of Ireland's top two-mile chasers, but it wasn't a straight road to the top for him, with him having to overcome some notable jumping frailties on his way up the ranks. Once his jumping improved, Big Zeb went on to win no less than six Grade 1 races over fences, with his most memorable win coming in the Queen Mother Champion Chase at the Cheltenham Festival in 2010. He enjoyed a fine rivalry with the Colm Murphy-trained Sizing Europe throughout the latter half of his career and he memorably got the better of that rival in a thrilling renewal of the Boylesports.com Champion Chase at the Punchestown Festival in 2011.
Sired by Oscar and out of a mare that didn't show much in two starts for Michael Hourigan, the horse that was to become Big Zeb was bought for just 2,400 gns as a foal at Tattersalls Ireland and was subsequently bought by his current owner Patrick Redmond for €34,000 as a three-year-old at the Goffs Land Rover Sale. His new owner sent him to be trained by Colm Murphy and by February 2006, the five-year-old was ready to run.
While Big Zeb failed to win a bumper in three attempts, there have been many top-class horses that also failed to win a bumper, most notably the legendary Moscow Flyer. He made no mistake once sent over hurdles, making a winning hurdling debut in a maiden at Fairyhouse in March 2007. He had just one more run over hurdles that season, finishing second to what would become his greatest rival in the years to come, Sizing Europe.
Following his seasonal reappearance over hurdles in December 2007, Big Zeb was sent to Leopardstown's Christmas meeting to make his chasing debut in a beginners chase. However, disaster struck, as he fell at the very first fence. Having been dusted down by Murphy, Big Zeb was sent for compensation just a few days later at Fairyhouse and he made no such errors, bolting up by 12 lengths. Later that month he was upped in class to a novice chase at Gowran Park, but unbelievably he once again fell at the very first fence. Despite this setback, Murphy decided to campaign Big Zeb in Grade 1 novice chase company for the remainder of the season and, following two second-places finishes, he made the breakthrough at the Punchestown Festival, winning the Cathal Ryan Memorial Swordlestown Cup Novice Chase in great style.
Making The Grade
Big Zeb's first start in open chasing company could hardly have went any better, with him winning the Grade 1 Paddy Power Dial-A-Bet Chase at Leopardstown's Christmas Festival in December 2008. Unfortunately, his old jumping problems resurfaced after that, with him falling at both Punchestown and the Cheltenham Festival. Murphy sent him back over hurdles for a confidence boost after that and he duly delivered with a win at the Fairyhouse Easter Festival. He was then returned to fences to contest the Grade 1 Kerrygold Champion Chase at the Punchestown Festival and he almost pulled off one of the shocks of the season, looking to have the measure of the mighty Master Minded only to blunder badly at the final fence, recovering gamely to rally and fail by just a head to peg back Paul Nicholls charge. That performance showed that Big Zeb was very much up to mixing it with the very best two mile chasers and hopes were high that he could deliver on that promise in 2009/10.
Hitting The Heights
The 2009/10 campaign began in perfect style for Big Zeb with him not needing to come off the bridle to win the Fortria Chase at Navan in November. Murphy then decided to send his stable star to Sandown to contest the Tingle Creek Chase, but it proved to be a disastrous journey, with Big Zeb turning in a rare poor performance. Given plenty of time to recover from that, he bounced back with a win in the Tied Cottage Chase at Punchestown in late-January and from there, Cheltenham was the target. Contesting the Queen Mother Champion Chase for the second time, Big Zeb jumped better than he had the previous season and with Master Minded running below form, Colm Murphy's charge forged up the hill to record an authoritative six lengths success. That win crowned Big Zeb as the top two mile chaser on the scene and Murphy was unsurprisingly content to give the other spring festivals a miss after such an excellent performance.
Defending The Title
As was the case the previous season, Big Zeb made an impressive return to action in the Fortria Chase at Navan in November 2010 and this time, Murphy opted to stay at home for the Paddy Power Dial-A-Bet Chase at Leopardstown's Christmas meeting. Sent off at even money, Big Zeb had to work hard to see off Golden Silver, but he did so by a margin of 1¾ lengths. Golden Silver was again in opposition to Big Zeb for his next start in the Tied Cottage Chase at Punchestown in late-January, but this time Willie Mullins' charge caught Big Zeb on the hop, nailing him close home to record a ½-length upset. Big Zeb's supporters were not too disheartened by that reversal and hopes were high that he could defend his Queen Mother Champion Chase crown at the Cheltenham Festival in March. As it transpired, Big Zeb ran another excellent race, but the Henry De Bromhead-trained Sizing Europe was just too strong for him on the day. Six weeks later, the pair re-matched in the Boylesports.com Champion Chase at the Punchestown Festival and in what was an excellent race, Big Zeb gamely gained his revenge by ¾-length.
On The Pursuit Of Redemption
Big Zeb began his campaign to regain his Queen Mother Champion Chase crown in 2011/12 by gaining his third consecutive win in the Fortria Chase at Navan in November. Despite the fact that he is about to turn 11 years old, Big Zeb looks to be as good as ever and is without question the one to beat in his bid for a third Paddy Power Dial-A-Bet Chase at Leopardstown's Christmas meeting. Indeed, he has to be considered a leading fancy to regain his Queen Mother Champion Chase crown at the Cheltenham Festival in March.