Colm Murphy celebrated a big-race Grade One double on the opening day of the Punchestown Festival today as Big Zeb and Quito De La Roque came up trumps for the Wexford trainer.
Big Zeb was avenging his Cheltenham defeat as he held off Sizing Europe in an epic finish to the Boylesports.com Champion Chase.
The latter had finished five lengths to the good at Prestbury Park in the Queen Mother Champion Chase, but Murphy’s runner turned around that form under Barry Geraghty.
The pair were neck and neck at the last and despite 11-8 favourite Sizing Europe rallying gamely for Timmy Murphy, Big Zeb (9-4) got the verdict by three-quarters of a length.
Murphy said: “He’s one in a million, he gives everything. To come here after Cheltenham was a big ask and he was all guts. They were slogging it out from a long way out.
“I was happy all the way round and I thought Sizing Europe never looked as happy today as he did at Cheltenham.
“We’ll take it race by race (next season). He’s not getting any younger and will be 11 next year. You can be sure there will be a few more young kids on the block. He’ll probably start off at Navan again (Fortria Chase in November) and we’ll see how we go from there.”
Sizing Europe’s trainer Henry de Bromhead said: “Everything went right at Cheltenham and we have no excuses today, the better horse won on the day.
“Timmy gave him a great ride, he said the ground was just a bit dead. I think he just misses that Cheltenham hill a bit as it’s tough for them to sprint away from him there.”
Quito De La Roque landed top honours in the Growise Champion Novice Chase.
The heavily-backed Quel Esprit came to grief seven out, leaving Davy Russell and Quito De La Roque in front.
British raider Mr Thriller then departed four out and Murphy’s rapidly-improving seven-year-old was never seriously threatened thereafter, coming home 14 lengths clear of Western Charmer at rewarding odds of 7-2.
Murphy said of the Aintree winner: “He’s tough as nails, he had to do it the hard way. We’ll let the dust settle and see how he summers. The obvious staying chases are there next year and we will see how he improves.
“He has a high cruising gear and stays really well so we’ll dream on.”
Outlaw Pete provided trainer Enda Bolger and jockey JT McNamara with victory in an eventful opener to the five-day meeting.
Bolger has won the Kildare Hunt Club Fr. Sean Breen Memorial Chase over the cross-country fences three times in the last 10 years with McNamara aboard for two of those victories.
The pair duly added another to their respective tallies as 5-1 shot Outlaw Pete survived some terrible interference when Leg Iron fell early on to stay on strongly and see off Wedger Pardy by 13 lengths in a race packed with incident.
Bolger’s Zest For Life was sent off the 9-4 favourite but crashed out early on in proceedings leaving the well-supported Let The Show Begin to hit the front.
However, going to the fifth-last, Let The Show Begin took the wrong course and threw away his chance, leading to a seven-day ban for rider Ciaran Murphy.
Punters must have thought the drama was over at that point with Theroadtocroker and Not To Pushed both travelling well but that pair failed to negotiate a tight turn before the second-last.
The duo missed the fence and were pulled up in what proved to be a controversial heat.
Bolger said: “JT is a wily old fox and let everything happen in front of him. Zest For Life is OK and could run in the La Touche (on Thursday). This fellow is unlikely to run again this week.”
Shot From The Hip (11-2) made it a swift double for owner JP McManus as he powered away from his rivals in the Grade One Evening Herald Champion Novice Hurdle.
Trainer Edward O’Grady said of Tony McCoy’s mount: “I’ve always had a high opinion of the horse, but he’s just not been as consistent as we’d have liked although there have been reasons for that.
“He might go chasing next season. He has the scope for it and jumps and stays well.”