Big Zeb Just Champion
1 Big Zeb 9/4
A fantastic renewal of the Grade 1 Boylesports.com Champion Chase, the feature event on the 2011 Punchestown Festival’s opening day on Tuesday, May 3, saw the Colm Murphy-trained Big Zeb reverse the placings with his Cheltenham conqueror Sizing Europe.
“I’m delighted and all credit to Sizing Europe too,” said Murphy. “It’s like the days when Brave Inca took on Macs Joy and Harchibald over hurdles, it’s a matter of whoever is right on the day. We were probably firing today when Sizing Europe wasn’t so much.
“But it’s nice to get Big Zeb’s head in front again and Barry seemed happy enough. Big Zeb gives everything and he will be 11 next year, he’s not getting any younger, and we’ll probably just take things race by race with him next season.”
Geraghty added: “The spring ground just helped my lad and I was always sitting confidently behind Timmy (Murphy on Sizing Europe) whereas at Cheltenham I wasn’t.
“I compare him a bit with Moscow Flyer, he has real guts and deserved today. Sizing Europe is very brave and went out fighting and it was a true run race.”
Quito De La Roque looked a star staying chaser for next season after completing a Grade 1 double for Murphy when winning the Growise Champion Novice Chase over three miles and one furlong by 14 lengths under Davy Russell.
“I’d imagine he’d go out for grass and you’d hope he improves and, if he does, we’ll see where next season brings us,” said Murphy.
“We won’t name races for next season but he would have to improve 20lb to be a Gold Cup horse. We have some nice staying chases here and hopefully his name might be on some of those.
“He has improved all year and travelled better today although good ground would have been even better for him.
“It would be nice to win two Grade 1s in a season so it’s amazing to win two on one day, it’s not happened to me before and it’s fantastic to do it here of all places.”
Russell added: “I was very happy the whole way round but when Quel Esprit fell I just got a bit lonely in front. I just had to keep him going as he’s a lazy old devil and I was worried he might idle in front.
“They have done a phenomenal job with the ground here - I can only imagine the effort that has gone into it. Because of what they’ve done, horses like Quito De La Roque are running here.”
Owner Michael O’Leary added: “Davy said he was idling in front and would improve. When he was point-to-pointing, he was pretty useless but he’s done nothing all year but improve.”
Willie Mullins, who has trained 12 winners at each of the last two Punchestown Festivals, got off the mark this year when 10/1 chance Johnny McGeeney took the ‘3' Handicap Hurdle by a neck and lengthened Paul Townend’s lead in the Irish jockeys’ title race.
“We’ll probably go for another big handicap somewhere. He’s a summer ground horse and I might put him away for the Galway Hurdle although today’s win probably won’t help him,” said Mullins.
Meanwhile, trainer Noel Meade got off the mark at the Festival after Texas Jack made a 14/1 winning debut in the 100,000 euros Goffs Land Rover bumper when coming late and fast to score by two lengths.
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