OLD FOES Sizing Europe and Big Zeb renew rivalry in the showpiece Paddy Power Dial-A-Bet Chase on what is a tremendous spread at Leopardstown this afternoon.
Surprisingly, it is the first time that Sizing Europe has contested the €80,000 Grade One, and his repeated absence has helped to facilitate Big Zeb's 100pc record in the race.
While both have been brilliant champions of the speed chasing division, Henry de Bromhead's 10-year-old is by now well established as the superior horse, and he has been in breathtaking form so far this term.
Of course, on such testing ground anything could happen at the Foxrock venue, but it is hard to envisage Big Zeb clocking a fourth win in five years on the eve of his 12th birthday.
Nonetheless, with Paul Nicholls sending over the AP McCoy-ridden Edgardo Sol and Robbie Hennessy opting to drop Rubi Light back in trip, it will be fascinating to see how the race unfolds.
On the undercard, Jezki, a Grade One winner at Fairyhouse last time, stars in what might be a vintage edition of the Future Champions Novice Hurdle, while 28 have a tilt at the €106,800 pot on offer to the winner of the Paddy Power Handicap Chase.
Despite Jonjo O'Neill and Nicky Henderson saddling one each of JP McManus' seven contenders, McCoy has plumped for the Ted Walsh-trained Colbert Station and of no less significance is that By The Hour just made the cut. Lest we forget, the nine-year-old mare's handler Robert Tyner has a choice record in major handicaps here.
From a handful of runners, he has twice saddled the winner of this always competitive affair, and twice more come away second best. Put simply, it's not for a day out that Tyner hauls horses all the way to Dublin from his Kinsale base.
12.20 Paddy Power On Your Mobile Maiden Hurdle 2m
Teofolina, a heavy ground winner on the Flat, made an encouraging debut when third to South South West at Gowran Park. Jim Bolger's filly ought to improve.
The others of interest are first-timers, notably Call Me Bubbles and Diplomat. They were both dual winners in the mud last summer, though Diplomat was rated higher.
Verdict: Teofolina, inferior to some of these on the level, can build on debut third.
12.50 Paddy Power Maiden Hurdle 2m
Celtic Cailin is brilliantly consistent but may just find one or two too strong again. Dancers Dilemma, an easy bumper winner for Dermot Weld at Ballinrobe in May, is possibly as good as anything on duty. The testing going may not suit him, but it should favour Mumbo Jumbo. A dual bumper victor, including here in 2011, he was just chinned by Ted Veale at Listowel.
Verdict: Mumbo Jumbo appeals as a solid nap option for an in-form team.
1.25 Grade One Paddy Power Dial-A-Bet Chase 2m 1f
The progressive Edgardo Sol, unproven on testing ground, represents Paul Nicholls. A winner of two of his three chase starts last term, he found only Cue Card too good on his reappearance, and ran a nice race over flights last time.
Three-time winner Big Zeb was second to Flemenstar on his Navan return. Colm Murphy's charge is no back number despite his age, but may not have the legs to win.
The strong-travelling Rubi Light is interesting. Second in last year's Lexus, he drops back to two miles after failing to excel over three and will relish the testing going.
Sizing Europe still sets the standard. Exquisite at Clonmel last time, he might be unbeaten in six were it not for a controversial incident at Cheltenham in March, and he is equally proficient on all sorts of going.
Verdict: Remains impossible to look beyond Sizing Europe under Andrew Lynch.
2.0 Grade One Paddy Power Future Champions Novice Hurdle 2m
Jezki recorded a stylish victory in the Royal Bond last time. He is ground-versatile, has the best hurdling form and clearly is still an improving four-year-old.
Waaheb was a top-class bumper horse the season before last. He beat little of note on soft on his Fairyhouse hurdling bow, but did so in deeply impressive fashion.
Sizing Rio is a likeable sort that has won its two hurdles, though he may still be less precocious than others. Dessie Hughes' Bright New Dawn is harder to assess. He didn't look too special last season, but obliged in the manner of a fair horse when toppling yesterday's winner Ned Buntline in a Fairyhouse maiden hurdle recently.
Verdict: In a race full of nascent talent, Jezki is the one with the form.
2.35 Paddy Power Handicap Hurdle 2m
Discoteca clocked a four-timer in the summer, but disappointed at Galway. He had a pipe-opener on the Flat two weeks ago so could be a threat again now.
Tennis Cap, a maiden hurdle winner for Willie Mullins at Cork, makes its handicap debut off a light weight, while Gentleman Duke, still without a win over flights, also has very little lead on its back. A staying-on fifth in a decent race behind King Of Queens at Fairyhouse on its handicap bow, he should build on that.
Citizenship enjoyed a big win here earlier in the year, as did Carrigmartin – successful on its latest outing over flights at Cork in April – over fences last year.
Verdict: Gentleman Duke can confirm the promise of his latest showing.
3.10 Paddy Power Handicap Chase 3m
The keen Rathlin tries three miles for a first time. He has top-weight, but was second to Flemenstar in the Powers Gold Cup and has the excellent 7lb claimer Jane Mangan up. Cross Appeal, last year's winner, has been out of sorts, as AP McCoy opts for Colbert Station – a fair third off a 1lb lower mark here in January – over six others.
With stamina likely to be at a premium, Glam Gerry, successful at this festival last year, would be of interest if his jumping holds up. By The Hour, another previous course winner, has snuck in at the bottom of the page. Second on her last chase start, she will come on for a blowout over hurdles at the beginning of the month.
Of the raiders, Alfie Sherrin is most appealing. Jonjo O'Neill's Cheltenham Festival scorer was third in the Irish Grand National, and has the benefit of a recent hurdle run.
Verdict: The progressive By The Hour can strike off a light weight.
3.40 Paddy Power On Your Mobile Bumper 2m 4f
Captain Lob has ability but maybe not enough to win this, and a similar comment might apply to Navan runner-up Very Vite. Fergiethelegend was just denied by a decent sort at Punchestown, while Thekingofconnemara, second at Cork in April, hails from a shrewd stable.
Verdict: Thekingofconnemara strikes as the one to keep on side for now.