TRAINER Colm Murphy hailed Big Zeb’s improvement after the 10-1 shot left hot favourite Master Minded trailing in his wake to land the Queen Mother Champion Chase, the highlight on day two of the Cheltenham Festival.
All the pre-race talk at Prestbury Park had been of whether Master Minded, ridden by Ruby Walsh, could match 1980s legend Badsworth Boy by triumphing for a third consecutive year. Big Zeb had been largely overlooked, having fallen at the penultimate fence last year and earned a reputation as an unreliable jumper. But the nine-year-old upset the odds with a consummate round, leaving jockey Barry Geraghty and Murphy to toast the Irish raider’s victory on St Patrick’s Day.
“It is just great and it is the manner in which he did it as much as anything. He is a proper horse this year and was a second-season novice taking on the big boys last spring,” said Murphy.
“He wasn’t right when he came to Sandown in December and who knows what would have happened last year if he hadn’t fallen. He takes a lot of knowing and Barry knows him so well.
“They have a great relationship and Barry has so much belief in him. He can make silly little mistakes – you can’t afford to do it in a race like this – but he was very good today.”
Big Zeb came home six lengths ahead of last year’s Arkle winner Forpadydeplasterer, with Kalahari King narrowly beating Master Minded to third place.
Geraghty, who went on to enjoy further success on 14-1 shot Spirit River in the Coral Cup, said: “I knew I had enough horse under me and that it would take a good horse to get by me. I am not saying he is as good as Moscow Flyer but today was as good as a performance that Moscow Flyer put in.”
Master Minded’s trainer Paul Nicholls said conditions had hampered the favourite. “We were beaten fair and square,” he said. “I have been concerned with the drying ground over the last couple of days and he didn’t perform at his best. He has won two Champion Chases and today we have a new champion – that is what racing is all about.”