Zaarito leading powers that be
Colm Murphy enjoyed one of his career highlights when Big Zeb triumphed at Cheltenham last month to land the Queen Mother Champion Chase. And while Murphy's Grade One wins as a trainer have come courtesy of Big Zeb (three), Brave Inca (10), and Fethard Lady (who notched up one before an early end to her career), another of the Wexford man's string will be hoping to add to the elite list on Sunday as Zaarito headed the names left in the Powers Gold Cup at Fairyhouse.
The opening day feature of the Meath venue's Easter Festival is a Grade One contest with a total of 15 novice chasers remaining in, which would be fitting compensation for the horse who took too long to get his jumping in order to warrant a tilt at the Arkle, which was won by Sizing Europe.
"It's a case of so far so good and he seems really well, so roll on Sunday," Murphy said. "The annoying thing about him is he is a very good jumper when he wants to be, but maybe he's a little bit too brave for his own good."
In six starts over fences, the eight-year-old has won twice, finished second (to Captain Cee Bee) once, and failed to complete on the other three occasions -- enforcing collarbone injuries on Matthew O'Connor and Denis O'Regan in the process.
"The Powers Gold Cup has been the plan since Christmas and we always thought better ground would suit him. Unfortunately it's going to be soft this weekend but he's handled it before and I'm hoping Davy Condon will ride him again," the trainer added.
Murphy also revealed that his Champion Chase hero will return to Punchestown later this month to try and claim the Champion Chase he left behind at the last fence last year when a bad mistake cost him the opportunity to topple Master Minded.
"Thankfully, he came out of his last race really well and I'm delighted with him. Punchestown is the plan, luckily there's plenty of time between Cheltenham and Punchestown and we'll freshen him up and go there with him.
"We're lucky, he doesn't take much getting ready and we're able to keep him pretty fresh," Murphy continued.
Also Punchestown-bound is his classy mare Voler La Vedette who found two too good in the David Nicholson Mares Hurdle at Cheltenham, which was subsequently won by Willie Mullins' Quevega, and Murphy is now eyeing a drop back in trip from that 2m4f to the 2m of the Rabobank Champion Hurdle.
"We were delighted with her at Cheltenham considering how free she was. She never settled in the race at all and we'll probably step her back to two miles and run her in the Champion Hurdle at Punchestown. The drop in trip will suit her better as they'll probably go a stride quicker and hopefully she'll settle that bit better."
And while the Guinness Gold Cup at Punchestown was earmarked as a potential target for Gold Cup runner up Denman, officials at the Co Kildare track will be hoping that Ayr does not turn into a stamina test as that may result in Paul Nicholls aiming at the Scottish Grand National.
While soft ground is imperative to when or if Denman makes his final appearance of the campaign, joint-owner Paul Barber said yesterday: "I think Ayr is virtually certain if the ground is soft. However, if the ground is fast or even good, he will not be running. Aintree has no chance, and Punchestown has got some chance if the ground is right."