Big Zeb to land another Champion for Murphy

THERE is no better sight in racing than the best two mile chasers in the world running at full pelt around the unique contours of Prestbury Park. The sportingbet.com Queen Mother Champion Chase is a truly mouthwatering contest and many punters will be hoping Master Minded can replicate his astonishing performance in 2008.

Then a five-year-old, Master Minded blasted his way into Cheltenham folklore with his display of speed and slick jumping. He has never quite matched that day’s feat, but he is unbeaten in three runs this season and a summer breathing operation seems to have worked the oracle. That said, he only just managed to hold Somersby at Ascot last time and there has to be a worry that he appears to perform better on softer ground.

Henrietta Knight has adopted her usual ‘softly softly’ approach with Somersby, as she does with all her top chasers. He seemed to get a little outpaced in last year’s Arkle, but was doing all his best work at the finish and he will be staying on up the hill this afternoon. My worry with him is that he often drops back in the crucial middle phase of the race and is left with too much to do. The Ryanair would have been his ideal race and I doubt he will have enough speed to live with this field on good ground.

Moscow Flyer was Ireland’s big hero in the last decade, but they could have another one in last year’s winner BIG ZEB. Colm Murphy’s pride and joy put in an imperious display of jumping 12 months ago, returning an easy six length winner at 10/1. The reason he was such a big price that day was that he had fallen in the Queen Mother the previous year and had regularly shown jumping frailties.

However, his trainer seems to have ironed out all those problems and his fencing has become much more consistent. He was beaten by his old rival Golden Silver at Punchestown last time, but that race wasn’t run to suit and Barry Geraghty admitted that he got to the front too soon. He is a strong fancy at 11/4 with Sportingbet and I’d also be happy to buy him in a match bet against Master Minded with Sporting Index.

The Irish aren’t just a one-man band this year, though, as both Captain Cee Bee and SIZING EUROPE hold each-way claims. Captain Cee Bee was an easy winner of the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle in 2008 and was sent off favourite in last year’s Arkle only to finish a distant eighth after bleeding. He is lightly raced and was impressive when taking the Novice Chase at Punchestown last April.

Henry De Bromhead has had a strange season with Sizing Europe, experimenting in trip and he has now brought him back to two miles. His jumping wasn’t as slick over the longer trips and it might be that he just needs to be running flat out to really concentrate and put his best foot forward. Arkle winners have a tremendous record in the Queen Mother the following season with the last 12 contenders all being placed at least.

Sponsors Sportingbet are refunding any horse that falls, unseats or is brought down in this race, so that really does back up my confidence in Big Zeb. Murphy has already said that the horse’s biggest danger is himself and he does have the propensity to throw in the odd howler.

Finally, you can keep tabs on all of my Cheltenham betting news by following me live from the course on Twitter @BillEsdaile.

the INSIDER
One day down, three more days to go, so keep calm and carry on. The Neptune Novices' Hurdle at 2.05pm is hugely competitive but I think it is between ROCK ON RUBY (5%) and So Young.

I fancy Paul Nicholls' charge to see off Willie Mullins' favourite and will also be investing in a reverse forecast (1%).

However, the bet of the day and perhaps even the meeting is KNIGHTS PASS (5%e/w) in the Weatherbys Champion Bumper at 5.15pm. My selection can provide the home team with another winner of the race which the Irish claim to be their own. Malcolm Denmark has had plenty of big race winners but this would provide young trainer Warren Greatrex with a well earned Grade 1 success.

Elsewhere on the card I fancy another Mullins’ runner in the shape of SOME TARGET (3%) in the National Hunt Chase.

He looks to have been laid out for this. I’m also a huge fan of TIME FOR RUPERT (4%) in the RSA Chase who has looked special in his two starts over fences so far.

WOOLCOMBE FOLLY (3%) looks to hold serious claims in the sportingbet.com Champion Chase and is a viable option against the front two.

Finally, I like Charlie Longsdon’s PAINTBALL (3%) in the Fred Winter. He looks to have got in off a fairly lenient mark and is held in high regard at home.