Big Zeb gets vote in latest Sizing tussle
THE latest episode in the finely balanced rivalry between Big Zeb and Sizing Europe has scared off all bar one other runner in tomorrow's Tied Cottage Chase at Punchestown.
Imperial Shabra has over four-stone to find with each of the last two champion chasers in the Boylesports.com-sponsored feature, so the Grade Two is likely to develop into a straight match between the leading protagonists.
Big Zeb, odds-on for this two-miler, but 4/1 to Sizing Europe's 9/4 for next month's Queen Mother Champion Chase, is widely expected to cope better with the forecast testing going.
However, it is worth remembering that Colm Murphy's evergreen 11-year-old also held sway in a tactical affair on decent ground at Punchestown in May.
The reigning Henry de Bromhead-trained champion probably deserves to be favourite for Cheltenham, but the ante-post showings may not quite do Big Zeb justice.
Either way, Big Zeb, seven lengths to the good in second when the pair first clashed behind Golden Silver here 12 months ago, gets the nod to maintain his Indian summer under Robbie Power now.
Since failing to cope with Andrew Lynch's pace-setting tactics on Sizing Europe at Cheltenham, the five-time Grade One winner is unbeaten in three, latterly producing a fine turn of foot to claim his third Dial-A-Bet Chase.
Sizing Europe, having failed to convince over further earlier in the campaign, came back to form with a vengeance when producing one of his trademark dominant performances on good ground to run away with the Tingle Creek early in December.
In light of that, you would expect there to be less between him and Big Zeb tomorrow than there was a year ago, but the finishing order should still be the same.
The Racing UK Novice Hurdle, a €25,675 Grade Two, is another intriguing contest. Simenon, a facile victor at Cork for Willie Mullins last time, is sure to be popular under Ruby Walsh, while Caolaneoin and Joxer also have smart winning form.
Those three all hold entries in the glamour events at Cheltenham, as does Trifolium, which is fancied to come out on top here for Davy Russell.
Having taken a couple of runs to find its feet over flights, Charles Byrnes' French import progressed to win twice in good style, before running into So Young at Navan.
Trifolium served it up to his more experienced counterpart for a long way there, only giving best late on. In this company, that is a piece of individual form that stands out.
In the Eadestown GAA & Parish Fair Maiden Hurdle, Mullins' Allure Of Allusion, a luckless second behind Joxer at Punchestown last time, should be hard to beat.
The champion trainer is also expected to collect with Our Monty and Scotsirish. Fourth behind Big Zeb at Leopardstown, Scotsirish is the class act in the PP Hogan Memorial banks race, with Our Monty a tentative choice in the Pertemps Hurdle.
Mullins has set punters a slight poser in this competitive handicap. His unexposed Sergeant Guib's tops the weights under Walsh, but that one's presence leaves Our Monty with just 10st 4lb.
On that basis, the Paul Townend-ridden former Cork Grand National winner might be able to take advantage.