Sizing Europe leads a cast of jumping stars
Opening salvos don't come much more loaded than this. At Down Royal today in the first Grade One of the new National Hunt campaign, the JNwine.com Champion Chase, Sizing Europe, the highest-rated novice chaser either side of the Irish Sea last term, tackles the mighty Kauto Star.
A brilliant winner of the 2010 Irish Independent Arkle Trophy at Cheltenham, Sizing Europe is joined in his quest to deny the game's marquee name by, among others, China Rock.
It's hard to know how much more Mouse Morris's greatly improved seven-year-old has in him, but he readily overturned a ring-rusty Sizing Europe when the pair met at Punchestown in October. Right now, he is still a contender.
Pandorama, another of our very best novice chasers in 2009/10, also returns today.
Tomorrow at Navan it is the turn of Joncol, the Hennessy Gold Cup hero and the best three-mile chaser in Ireland, as well as Big Zeb, the outright two-mile champion.
Joining them will be Golden Silver. In the absence of Big Zeb at the Punchestown Festival in April, that one beat both Forpadydeplasterer and Sizing Europe in the Boylesports.com Champion Chase. Forpadydeplasterer was also entered for tomorrow's Fortria Chase, but will instead go to Cheltenham next Sunday.
At Punchestown the same day, Hurricane Fly and Solwhit are set to reappear.
Everywhere you turn, good horses. Good Irish-trained horses. It's early days, but there is cause for optimism.