Lieutenant to call the shots in early-season showdown
If further confirmation were needed that the proper National Hunt season is upon us, this afternoon's PWC Champion Chase at Gowran Park provides compelling proof.
A Grade Two that has a cracking pedigree, this year's edition of the two-and-a-half-mile contest features a fascinating early-season clash of the old and the new. This sees Sizing Europe and China Rock, the two most recent winners of this and the two highest-rated chasers in the country, due to be challenged by First Lieutenant, one of last season's very best novices.
Throw the 2009 Arkle trophy hero Forpadydeplasterer and the 2010 Hennessy Gold Cup victor Joncol into the mix and you can be sure that the €25,350 prize for first place will be hard won.
Sizing Europe, Henry de Bromhead's former two-mile champion, enjoyed a fantastic last campaign, though he needed the final-fence fall of Rubi Light to get his season off on a positive note here.
Although controversially denied back-to-back Champion Chase glory, he signed off with a thoroughly authoritative triumph at Punchestown.
China Rock, fourth there, re-appeared four days later to claim the three-mile equivalent, but this might just be the day when First Lieutenant, his Mouse Morris-trained stablemate, starts to fulfil his potential.
In one sense, the dual Grade One-winning hurdler was a shade disappointing in his first season over fences, scoring just twice in seven starts, and is nought from four since obliging at Cork last November.
However, on the two occasions that the Gigginstown Stud-owned son of Presenting got the decent ground that he will get here, he posted his best performances.
Granted, neither effort would worry an on-song Sizing Europe -- or maybe even China Rock -- but the suspicion is that First Lieutenant still has oodles of scope for improvement.
Davy Russell is also taken to land the nap on Minella For Value in the maiden hurdle over the same trip.