'Big Zeb' makes a pleasing return

with DICK WHITE

'BIG ZEB' made a return to action at Navan on November 7 when the nine-year-old son of 'Oscar' put in a good performance to win the grade 2 Fortria Steeplechase. Last season's Champion Chase winner at the Cheltenham festival was well handled by Barry Geraghty to make a pleasing return for connections.

Racing in the purple and yellow colours of Paddy Redmond, the horse will be seen at Christmas at Leopardstown in the two-mile Paddy Power chase, with the Tide Cottage chase at Punchestown being next on the agenda before another tilt at the Champion Chase.

Winning trainer Colm Murphy noted afterwards: 'I'm more relieved than anything, he seems to have grown up a lot since last year. He's best when fresh so we'll try to get him to Cheltenham that way'. This was to everybody's eye a satisfactory return, and 'Big Zeb' will mount a serious defence of his two-mile championship in March, 2011.

MURTAGH LEAVES

In last week's column it had been outlined that all was not well between Johnny Murtagh and Aidan O'Brien's Ballydoyle yard, as Murtagh quit one of racing's top jobs.

To date, no reason has been forthcoming and no comment given as to any reason why.

In an extraordinary turn of events, Murtagh partnered a group one winner for O'Brien at Saint Cloud on Saturday last. Riding 'Recital' in the colours of Mrs. John Magnier, he stormed to a five lengths success in the one mile, two furlong Criterium De Saint Cloud. The two-year-old son of 'Montjeu' looks a classy sort and could be a serious Derby contender next year.

Incidentally, O'Brien also saddled the fourth-placed horse, 'Exodus', and this horse should be kept in mind next season. Returning to the split in the camp, O'Brien revealed that no replacement will be announced for Murtagh until next year. It does seem to be a strange turn of events that Murtagh quits his job but continues to ride at a top level for O'Brien!

DOYLE'S SALES TOPPER

Liz Doyle struck gold at Brightwells sale at Cheltenham on November 12 when her bumper placed horse, 'Cheltenian', made £210K. The four-year-old son of 'Asterabad' was the top lot of the day and was knocked down to Roger Brookhouse. Doyle had saddled the horse to be second in a bumper in Punchestown and his reputation had gone before him.

Other interesting lots sold included Redbridge stable's 'Ravastree'. Acting as agents, this son of 'Lord Americo' won recently at Lingstown for Brian Jordan and was purchased by Highflyer bloodstock for £65K. These sales represented a very good return for two local yards.

REVIEW OF THE WEEK

Paul Nolan continues to have his yard in good form and he recorded a nice winner at Limerick on November 7 with 'Carloswayback'. Ridden by Martin Doran in the Opportunity Maiden hurdle, the son of 'Bob Back' justified favouritism to win by five lengths.

On the same card, John Cullen teamed up with Co. Kilkenny trainer Eoin Doyle to take the Handicap Steeplechase on the 'Beat All' seven-year-old, 'For A Finish', at 7/1.

Declan Bates continues to catch the eye as a 7 lb. claimer and he won again on 'Jacks Island' at Clonmel on November 11. The seven-year-old son of 'Turtle Island' is trained by Phillip Rothwell and won at 10/1.

It's good to see the return of Seán Flanagan to the saddle while it is also noted that David Casey continues to pump out the winners as he was successful on 'Darling Harbour' at Down Royal.

BETWEEN THE FLAGS

The point-to-point sector continues at a local level on Sunday next, November 21, with the Wexford Foxhounds meeting at Lingstown. Following hot on the heels of the Ballydarragh meeting on Sunday last (a full report will be carried next week), the noon start at Lingstown will see a competitive programme.

On the track it was noteworthy at the Co. Roscommon Harriers meeting at Rockfield that the defunct stallion 'Heron Island' scored a remarkable treble in the first three contests. Formerly housed in Arctic Tack Stud in Newbawn, the stallion had winners in the shape of 'Will Fight', 'Little Island' and 'Isle of Gold'.

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