Big Zeb will bid to capitalise on the absence of Master Minded and advance his Queen Mother Champion Chase claims with victory at Sandown on Saturday.
Colm Murphy's eight-year-old was among 12 confirmations for the Tingle Creek Chase but Paul Nicholls' reigning champion Master Minded does not take his chance as he continues to recover from a rib injury.
Murphy admits the task has been eased slightly at Sandown, but with the likes of Well Chief, who recently beat Master Minded at Cheltenham, last season's Irish Independent Arkle winner Forpdaydeplasterer and Nicholls' Twist Magic, Big Zeb will still have a major fight on his hands.
“It's a tough ask but he seems good and well and everything is on course,” said Murphy. “He travels over on Thursday. He's a good traveller and takes it well but he can get a little bit hyper so I don't want him to be there too long.
“There's no question that with Master Minded not in there it is an easier task, but there's still plenty of very good ones to run.
“Well Chief is a very good horse and he has battled against the best in Moscow Flyer and Azertyuiop so he is obviously a special horse.
“Forpadydeplasterer won an Arkle last year, he's a very, very good horse and will have improved for a nice comeback run.”
Big Zeb is the 6-4 favourite with Coral for the Grade One feature and Murphy expects him to have improved for his facile victory in the Fortria Chase on his seasonal bow. “The nicer the ground, the better he travels and jumps,” he added. “It probably wasn't as heavy as it looked last time and it was good to get a run into him on that ground. The main thing was he put in a clear round and came back safe and he will be better for the run.”
While Big Zeb is very much an up-and-coming star, David Pipe's Well Chief is treading familiar ground having finished a close third behind Moscow Flyer and Azertyuiop in a cracking renewal back in 2004.
The 10-year-old has suffered more than his fair share of problems since, but his victory over Mahogany Blaze and Master Minded signalled a welcome revival in his fortunes — although he suffered a minor injury in running. Pipe said: “The cut Well Chief had at Cheltenham has now had the staples removed, which had held us up a bit. He seems in good form and with the Irish runners coming over it looks a competitive race, even without Master Minded.” At the other end of the scale, Emma Lavelle is contemplating letting novice Crack Away Jack tackle full company after just one start over fences.
Meanwhile, trainer Warren Greatrex and jockey Paddy Brennan enjoyed a profitable afternoon at Folkestone yesterday as they teamed up for success with Den Of Iniquity and Quartano. And Enroblim Trop made Tom Scudamore smile as the 11-4 joint-favourite romped home in the Anna Busbridge Memorial Handicap Chase.