Big Zeb and Forpady ready to renew rivalry in Fortria
Colm Murphy's latest stable star Big Zeb could encounter old rivals Forpadydeplasterer, Golden Silver and Mansony when making his seasonal return at Navan on Sunday in defence of the Friends of Navan Fortria Chase.
The Meath venue, where the advance going was soft yesterday, will be hosting three Graded races as they usher in a new jumps campaign and the giant Joncol could yet join that quartet of prolific scorers in the field.
This Grade Two contest over two miles seldom fails to excite and another clash of Big Zeb and Tom Cooper's Forpadydeplasterer, after their complete domination of the Queen Mother Champion Chase in Cheltenham last March, would be well worth seeing.
Along with the equivalent Punchestown Festival hero Golden Silver for Willie Mullins, this trio should give their connections plenty of fun again in the upcoming campaign, while Joncol can take his share of the limelight over longer trips on the home front.
While the recent retirement of former Fortria Chase regular Watson Lake leaves Noel Meade without a runner in the feature, the local handler would appear to have a strong hand in the afternoon's other Grade Two event.
Meade can call on last year's victor Aitmatov and Donnas Palm in the Lismullen Hurdle over two and a half miles. Dorans Pride and Solerina are among the previous classy Lismullen winners and Meade's pair could do battle against Jumbo Rio, Mourad, Oscar Dan Dan and Won In The Dark.
Perfect Smile and Prima Vista, which each were maiden hurdle scorers last time, plus Dark Prospect, are Meade's initial acceptors for the Grade Three For Auction Novice Hurdle, in which Far Away So Close for Paul Nolan and John 'Shark' Hanlon's promising Hidden Cyclone also catch the eye.
The undefeated Hidden Cyclone's better-known stable companion Luska Lad could claim yet another prize for Hanlon if taking his chance as the highest-rated of a mere seven left in Friday's WKD Core Hurdle at Down Royal.
This easy Punchestown winner is on an official mark of 150, giving him a possible edge in that two-mile Grade Two race over the Willie Mullins-trained Blackstairmountain (146) and Jessica Harrington's Summit Meeting (143), which have yet to race this season.
The Lough Construction Mares Novice Hurdle at Grade Three level could feature the jumping debut of Tommy Stack's useful Flat racer Magen's Star against hat-trick seekers Araucaria, Oilily, Macville and Kayanna's Back.
Meade, meanwhile, does not believe a lack of fitness will be a major issue when Pandorama makes his eagerly awaited return in the Ladbrokes.com Chase at Down Royal on Saturday.
The seven-year-old has suffered just one defeat from nine starts under NH rules, but injury has kept him out of action since he won a Grade One novice chase at Leopardstown last Christmas.
His early season target will be the Hennessy Gold Cup at Newbury at the end of the month, but Meade is keen to get a run into his charge to blow away the cobwebs. "Obviously we hope he'll come on for the run a bit, but I think we've got him reasonably straight -- he's ready to rock and roll," Meade said.
Despite being a three-time Grade One winner, Pandorama remarkably looks set to line up at Newbury on November 27 from out of the handicap due to the possible presence of the 190-rated Kauto Star.