Redmond's Big dreams for Zeb
AN initial attempt to track down owner Pat Redmond at the Ashdown Park Hotel is met with the sort of response one expects in Big Zeb country.
"Yes, I know Big Zeb," says the receptionist. "We've all won some money off him here."
The Ashdown Park is one of several such smart establishments in Gorey belonging to Redmond and his brother Tom, who made their fortune from construction and property and appear to have a similar eye for an equine bargain.
Just as land and buildings are prey to the downturns in the market, when Redmond spent €34,000 on a son of Oscar back in 2004, he was acquiring an asset with solid foundations but by no means certain development potential.
Big Zeb, who is trained locally by Colm Murphy and again carries the purple and yellow colours of Co Wexford into Wednesday's Queen Mother Champion Chase, trod a rocky path to the ultimate prize for a two-miler, but got there in the end by winning the race in 2010.
"We just bought him as a three-year-old up at Goffs," says Redmond. "We looked at a good few horses and it got to the end of the evening and finally we got hold of a lovely-looking unbroken three-year-old."
That unbroken three-year-old did win his fourth start, a maiden hurdle at Fairyhouse in March 2007, before finishing second to a horse who would become a regular sparring partner, Sizing Europe, at the Punchestown Festival.
He ended up a Grade One winner at Punchestown but jumping errors punctuated the first couple of seasons, leading to another fall in the 2009 Queen Mother.
However, the turnaround started when he ran the Cheltenham hero Master Minded to a head at Punchestown a few weeks later, with the defining moment coming the following spring at Cheltenham with a six-length destruction of Forpadydeplasterer.
"Early in his career he had a few boo-boos but his jumping has gradually become a lot better," says Redmond.
Although strapping himself, with two white spots on his head, Big Zeb's name is really Redmond's. This is, however, not some ostentatious gesture by his owner, who explains: "When I was younger, I used to play in the local GAA, hurling and football, and it was a name I was given.
"I used to play a little myself, just locally in Craanford. I had my days and moments, but it was just a good old craic.
"I suppose it was because I was a big lump of a lad. Anyway, the lad who broke him in was a local fella and he put the name on him. It just stuck."
A second Paddy Power Dial-A-Bet Chase followed in December of that year, but he could not lay up with Sizing Europe, by now the rising star in the division, and was beaten by five lengths in the corresponding Queen Mother.
"I know he lost the Champion Chase last year, but I don't think he was at his best," Redmond insists.
"You could say it was maybe an off-day but it might be that Cheltenham had watered the ground and it was a little on the soft side. I think he's at his best on good ground. He didn't travel as well as he can and he then went to Punchestown and beat Sizing Europe."
The pendulum again swung back to Sizing Europe when 15 lengths split the pair in a virtual match race for the Tied Cottage at Punchestown.
"The ground was very heavy and we didn't want him to have a really tough race," Redmond says. "He'll be a better horse at Cheltenham and has as good a chance as any.
"Sizing Europe is the one to beat, but we'll be there or thereabouts."