Time called on Big Zeb career

Big Zeb, winner of the Queen Mother Champion Chase at Cheltenham in 2010, has been retired. Trainer Colm Murphy took the decision to call time on the 12-year-old’s highly successful racing career due to problems with the horse’s joints.

Big Zeb, winner of the Queen Mother Champion Chase at Cheltenham in 2010, has been retired. Trainer Colm Murphy took the decision to call time on the 12-year-old’s highly successful racing career due to problems with the horse’s joints.

Big Zeb has not responded well enough to treatment after he finished fourth to Sizing Europe in the Dial-A-Bet Chase at Leopardstown over Christmas.

“It’s a pity, but unfortunately he’s had a few niggly problems,” said the County Wexford handler.

“He didn’t come out of Leopardstown as well as we’d hoped. His joints are troubling him a little bit. He deserves his retirement now.

“The decision was made for us. We gave him a bit of time, but he still hadn’t responded to treatment so we are retiring him for his own sake.

“He has been so good to us so it’s the right thing to do. Winning the Champion Chase at Cheltenham would have to be the highlight.

“He’s been good and Leopardstown was lucky for him as well. We had many good days but the Queen Mother was the icing on the cake. I imagine he’d go home to his owner Pat Redmond. He has his own place not too far from here near Gorey.”

Big Zeb won 13 of his 33 starts and amassed over £813,000 in prize-money. His victories included three wins in the Dial-A-Bet Chase and the Boylesports.com Champion Chase at Punchestown in May 2011. He was also placed in the last two runnings of the Champion Chase at Cheltenham. Barry Geraghty was in the saddle for many of Big Zeb’s greatest days, including his Cheltenham victory in 2010.

He tweeted: “Good to hear my old friend Big Zeb has been retired in good health. We had great days with him, especially 2010 Champion Chase.”

Big ambitions for Quito

Colm Murphy hopes Quito De La Roque can build on his fine display in the Kinloch Brae Chase at Thurles last week.

The nine-year-old bounced right back to his best in the Grade Two, having lost his way since defeating Sizing Europe at Down Royal early last season. He holds engagements in the Hennessy at Leopardstown on February 9 and the Cheltenham Gold Cup in March, and is likely to be handed a Grand National entry as well.

“He’s in the Hennessy, he’s in the Gold Cup and I’m sure he’ll get one for Aintree as well so he’s in all the big ones,” Murphy told At The Races.

“I’m not sure yet, I haven’t spoken to the lads to see what they’re thinking but there’s no way of planning, the route is planned for you.

“He seems to be coming to himself but he’s taken longer this year to come to himself. “We’re happy with him, he looks better and we’re hoping he can build on that and improve again - he’d have to improve again.”

Raz has designs on Irish National

The Irish Grand National at Fairyhouse in April is the long-term target for Raz De Maree following his two lucrative victories this winter.

The eight-year-old won the Munster National at Limerick in mid-October and followed up in the Cork Grand National just weeks later.

Trainer Dessie Hughes said: “We’re keeping Raz De Maree ticking over and we’re looking for the Irish National for him.”

He added: “He had a couple of hard enough races so we’ve given him some time off. “He doesn’t really appreciate heavy ground, so there is no point in running him on it off his mark.”

Argocat on Jewson prowl

Tom Taaffe is favouring a crack at the Jewson Novices’ Chase with Argocat after giving his runner a clutch of Cheltenham Festival entries. The handler has entered his Limerick Grade Two winner in the two-and-a-half-mile heat, as well as the three-mile RSA Chase and two-mile Racing Post Arkle Trophy.

However, after winning over an extended two miles and three furlongs over Christmas, Taaffe believes the Jewson offer the best chance of Festival glory.

He said: “The preference for Argocat at the moment is the Jewson over two and a half miles. He won’t run again before Cheltenham but he has been in super form since his win at Limerick. He had a mid-term break and is back in full swing now.

“He did what he had to do at Limerick and was in receipt of the four-year-old weight allowance. He is progressive and has done nothing but please us since he has gone over fences.

“I started schooling him in April last year and he jumped so well that I said that we are better off going over fences than sticking to hurdles. Better ground will definitely help him a lot and that’s why I have entered him in the two other races.” Argocat is one of 65 entries for the Jewson, which is run on March 14. Nicky Henderson has entered Grade One winner Captain Conan, but he could have other Festival targets in mind, while the same can be said of David Pipe’s leading RSA Chase hope Dynaste.

Willie Mullins won the race last year and he has 11 to choose from this time, including Arkle hope Arvika Ligeonnaire, former Festival winner Mikael D’Haguenet and Boston Bob. David Pipe and Henderson each have five contenders, including Goulanes and Buddy Bolero for Pipe. Paul Nicholls has three horses engaged, including Fago and Sire Collonges.

Boston on RSA list

Arvika tops Mullins’ Arkle squad

Arvika Ligeonniere is among 33 entries for the Racing Post Arkle at the Cheltenham Festival on March 12. The dual Grade One winner is one of nine possibles for Willie Mullins. The champion trainer can also call upon Boston Bob, Aupcharlie, Marito, Rupert Lamb, Tarla, Terminal, Toostrong and Twinlight. Jessie Harrington has given an entry to Oscars Well, with the home team headed by ante-post favourite Simonsig. His trainer Nicky Henderson also has Captain Conan and Tetlami in the mix. Overturn has made an excellent impression in two starts over the bigger obstacles and could try to improve on his second in the 2011 Champion Hurdle for Donald McCain.

Tea in frame for Bobbyjo

Teaforthree could run in Ireland next month before his big day in the John Smith’s Grand National. The Rebecca Curtis-trained nine-year-old was beaten just half a length in the Welsh National on his last start and is now a leading contender for the Aintree centrepiece in April. He is first likely to have a prep race in February, in either the Betfred Grand National Trial at Haydock or the Bobbyjo Chase at Fairyhouse.

“He’s perfect and is ticking away nicely,” said Newport-based Curtis. “His main aim will be the Grand National, of course, but we’d like to give him another run before then. We’re looking at either Grand National Trial at Haydock or, possibly, even the Bobbyjo Chase in Ireland.”

Parish Hall ‘50-50’ for Dubai date

We briefly return to the flat as Jim Bolger’s long-term absentee Parish Hall may be delayed in his comeback once again.

Bolger had hoped to get the 2011 Dewhurst Stakes winner ready in time for the Dubai World Cup on March 30 but that is now in the balance.

Bolger told The National: “We are a little behind with him. We had a slight setback just before Christmas and he missed a couple of weeks work. At the moment he would be only a 50-50 chance of making Dubai.”