Despite Sizing Europe's status as the undisputed king of current Irish chasers, plans for the brilliant dual Cheltenham Festival hero's spring campaign remain uncertain.
Henry de Bromhead's stable star recently turned 11, yet three tremendous triumphs this term, including a gritty seventh at Grade One level in the two-mile feature at Leopardstown over Christmas, mean that he has now gone nearly two years and 11 starts without finishing outside the first two. He was controversially and narrowly denied back-to-back glory in the Queen Mother Champion Chase at Prestbury Park last March, but few could be called his superior in the speed division.
However, the towering spectre of Sprinter Sacre looms large, and one final experimental foray over three miles is still on the minds of De Bromhead and the horse's owners, Alan and Ann Potts.
Testing going put paid to any prospect of a King George VI or Lexus Chase challenge last month, but the Hennessy Gold Cup at Leopardstown on February 9 is the now being considered, along with the more conservative Tied Cottage Chase over two miles at Punchestown six days earlier.
"He's great, he's in good form and the plan is to enter him in the Tied Cottage and the Hennessy," De Bromhead reported of the son of Pistolet Bleu yesterday. "I wouldn't like to say either way at the moment which race he'll run in. We'll just see what the ground is like nearer the time and go from there."
A year ago, Sizing Europe slammed his old nemesis Big Zeb by 15 lengths in the Tied Cottage, 12 months after they finished in the reverse order behind Golden Silver.
Apart from last year's Cotswold drama, his only other defeats since his 2011 Cheltenham coronation were in the Punchestown equivalent two months later and when Quito De La Roque toppled him over three miles at Down Royal later that year.
Recent evidence suggests that, come Cheltenham, Sizing Europe might still give Sprinter Sacre more of a test than anything else has managed of late, but De Bromhead reiterated that the longer championship events – the Ryanair Chase and the Betfred Gold Cup – are alternative options.
"He's in all three races and, again, it will be about seeing what the ground and the competition is like," he said. "Then we can make a decision."
In contrast, Hurricane Fly, like Sizing Europe a stunning Cheltenham champion in 2011 before falling short last year, has one race on his March agenda. Willie Mullins' nine-year-old was one of 10 Irish entries among 34 unveiled for this year's Stan James Champion Hurdle, for which he is the 7/4 ante-post market leader ahead of three other previous title-holders, Punjabi, Binocular and Rock On Ruby.
Mullins has also put Midnight Game, Thousand Stars and Zaidpour in the Grade One, with his brother Tom's King Of Queens, Gordon Elliott's Cause Of Causes and Mick Winters' Rebel Fitz all improving handicappers that have been given an entry.
Cause Of Causes and Midnight Game, first and second respectively at Navan on Sunday, also feature in the Betfair Hurdle at Newbury on February 9, and were allotted 11st 3lb and 11st 1lb respectively for the prestigious handicap yesterday.
Elliott's novice is 10/1 second favourite to make it three in-a-row following his superb December coup in the Ladbroke at Ascot, with JP McManus' Nicky Henderson-trained novice My Tent Or Yours heading the betting at as low as 4/1.
Meanwhile, the Dubai Racing Carnival continues in Meydan today, with Pat Shanahan's My Special J's, winner of the Group Two Debutante Stakes at the Curragh in August, on duty in the 1,000 Guineas trial under Tadhg O'Shea at 3.40.
French import More Than Sotka makes its debut for David Marnane in the seven-furlong contest, as Ger Lyons' The Reaper bids to follow up his last-time-out triumph at Dundalk in August under Gary Carroll in the subsequent six-furlong handicap.
Invincible Ash and Russian Soul represent Mick Halford in the same race, with 10 Irish representatives on duty in all.