Russell to Roque home in Down Royal feature
Reigning champion chaser Sizing Europe will attempt to build on a fortuitous comeback triumph when he steps up to three miles today in the first Grade One of the jumps campaign, the JNwine.com Champion Chase at Down Royal.
When Henry de Bromhead's nine-year-old ran second in this race 12 months ago, he was comfortably held by the aging Kauto Star. Given that Sizing Europe went on to record such an emphatic win in the Champion Chase over two miles, it may simply be the case that he isn't as effective over staying distances.
However, he was also beaten by Big Zeb at Punchestown in January prior to his scintillating Cheltenham success, so it remains a possibility that he just didn't peak until March. This time round, the situation is similarly inconclusive, as Rubi Light had put him in his place before falling at the last fence at Gowran Park last month.
While you can never write off a horse with Sizing Europe's class, Andrew Lynch's partner faces some exciting young chasers today, horses that may well be more at home over this trip.
Paul Nicholls and Noel Fehily, a potent pairing in Ruby Walsh's absence last term, must be respected here with the unexposed The Nightingale.
Midnight Chase, fifth in the Cheltenham Gold Cup, is also a likeable sort, but Jessica Harrington's Bostons Angel and Colm Murphy's Quito De La Roque are two that could have a really big say. The latter is fancied to just shade it.
Although beaten by the subsequent RSA winner Bostons Angel when they clashed at Leopardstown at Christmas, Quito De La Roque progressed in some style thereafter, concluding an unbeaten run of four by hosing up in a Grade One at Punchestown. Unlike Bostons Angel, Davy Russell's mount also has an excellent record first time out, so it would be no surprise to see this handsome chaser continue to improve now.
The Ladbrokes.com Chase had been an alternative option for Quito De La Roque. Russell instead partners the facile Punchestown scorer Roi Du Mee for Gordon Elliott in this Grade Two, while Harrington has another likeable sort here in Saludos.
Willie Mullins' Galway Plate victor Blazing Tempo is also among the five-runner field, but this could go the way of Kauto Stone, which debuts for Paul Nicholls. A brother to Kauto Star, the six-time French winner is obviously highly regarded.
On the remainder of the seven-race spread, there is less of an emphasis on quality, though the two-mile handicap hurdle is competitive. Of the 14 runners, Catch The Moment appeals most, despite being hit with a 15lb penalty for sluicing up at Cork.
Denis Cullen's mare is difficult to peg back once in front, and it was encouraging to see Madame Modo, third behind her at Cork, oblige so easily at Wexford last Sunday.
In the earlier handicap, Get In There, a winner here under Adrian Heskin in March, is taken to provide the talented conditional rider with a comeback victory on his first ride since damaging a cruciate ligament in a fall at Killarney in May.