Sizing can head for Festival on right note
Sizing Europe's big-race target at Cheltenham may still be up for decision, but the joint-highest rated chaser in the country will complete his Festival preparations over two miles in the Tied Cottage Chase at Punchestown tomorrow.
On official ratings, Henry de Bromhead's evergreen 11-year-old shares top billing of 171 with Flemenstar, and, much like Peter Casey's flamboyant operator, his versatility means that he has yet to be ruled out of any of next month's championship events.
With rising star Sprinter Sacre destined for the Queen Mother Champion Chase, both horses are expected to end up in one or the other of the longer Grade One races.
While that is understandable, it would also be slightly lamentable should it materialise as Sizing Europe and Flemenstar are the two horses best equipped to test Sprinter Sacre's mettle.
At Leopardstown last time, De Bromhead's 2011 champion reverted to the minimum trip to clock his seventh Grade One in workmanlike style.
Sizing Europe reappears now for a third successive outing in the Boylesports.com-sponsored Grade Two that he plundered 12 months ago. Barring mishaps, he should make for his fifth visit to the Cotswolds in March on a winning note.
Just four others face the starter in the €40,000 feature, with Willie Mullins' 2011 Galway Plate heroine Blazing Tempo next best on Turf Club figures, albeit 21lbs inferior to the long odds-on favourite.
John Ryan's consistent Foildubh, disappointing when hampered at Thurles last month, may pose a more potent threat to Andrew Lynch's mount if he leaves behind that uncharacteristic below-par turn.
The remainder of the card, comprising eight races due to the switch of the Dan Moore Memorial Chase from today's lost Fairyhouse fixture, promises to be even more informative.
In the Moscow Flyer Novice Hurdle, the Gordon Elliott-trained Don Cossack is out to redeem its reputation following a tame effort before capitulating at the final flight behind Pont Alexandre in a Navan Grade One in December.
While subsequent events have shown Pont Alexandre to be a worthy challenger for top honours, Don Cossack looked a pale shadow of his normal authoritative self from a long way out on that occasion.
As a big, raw sort of horse, the Gigginstown Stud-owned six-year-old may simply have needed the experience of what was only his second start over hurdles, so he is fancied to make amends under Davy Russell now.
Mullins' Mozoltov and Noel Meade's Ned Buntline are live dangers, but toppling an on-song Don Cossack will be a big ask.
Mozoltov's jockey Ruby Walsh – three shy of Russell on the riders' table – has a quality book that could see him outpoint the reigning champion on the day. In particular, Upazo and Lambro are fancied.
Robert Tyner's Byerley Babe, a stylish bumper winner in JP McManus' silks at Thurles, might put it up to Upazo in the maiden hurdle, but the selection did little wrong when second to Umpact and Jennies Jewel in its first two hurdle starts.
Lambro, reappearing for a first time since scoring at Punchestown in May, has more on its plate in the Dan Moore.
Alderwood, Pires, Far Away So Close and English raider Coole River all have obvious claims in the prestigious handicap.
Nonetheless, Lambro had some choice form behind Last Instalment and Flemenstar last term, and he might just be up to conceding weight all round.
In the Grand National Trial that follows, Jonjo O'Neill saddles Arbor Supreme under talented Fermoy-born claimer Maurice Linehan, but Murchu is nap material in this.
John 'Shark' Hanlon's dour stayer was bang in contention before unseating Mark Enright four-out in the Thyestes last month. With conditions to suit and a net weight of just 9st 8lb to carry, he should take plenty stopping under the Limerick rider now.