Zeb has old rivals covered
Punchestown's enterprising, if costly, experiment with 70,000- square metres of plastic sheeting covering the main chase and hurdle courses in a bid to counteract the threat to tomorrow's high-profile meeting from continuing night frosts, looks like delivering the desired result.
Despite temperatures dipping to minus 4.5 degrees on Thursday night, the Kildare venue could have hosted their attractive Boylesports.com Chase fixture yesterday afternoon, giving racing and operations manager Richie Galway fresh hope of beating the weekend weather.
"We would have raced today on the ground under the covers but not elsewhere on the course after that kind of frost. It's just above freezing here now and we're happy with what we've seen so far -- the precaution seems to be working," he said in the late afternoon.
Full marks to manager Dick O'Sullivan, Galway and their team for taking such a proactive stance in the belief that the combined expertise of Bord na Mona and Shabra Plastics, in successfully layering bogs with this kind of material for future profitable exploitation, would likewise work in their favour and avoid any repetition of losing out on their Durkan Memorial Chase meeting earlier last month.
Much of the €30,000-odd live television rights for the session will be swallowed up, however, by the covers initiative, even if the large roll-out of plastic can be lifted, stored on site and used again in the future, presuming the management are favoured by the right outcome.
Declaration-wise, the promoters and new sponsors Boylesports must be pleased that last season's Cheltenham heroes Big Zeb and Sizing Europe are being taken on for the Tied Cottage Chase spoils by Golden Silver, which triumphed here at Grade One level too last April.
Expected to start odds-on tomorrow to repeat last year's Grade Two success, Big Zeb is on offer with the Dundalk firm at 6/1 to emulate last year's Punchestown-Cheltenham double, and there are a lot worse ante-post wagers being touted at present by various layers.
The Tote's Pick Six bet, launched earlier this month, benefits here from a combined rollover of €14,755, which should help to bring jumping fans to the meeting a little earlier than is customary in this country, even allowing for the fact that the opening Irish leg of the Crystal Cup series promoting cross-country races throughout Europe might not survive, as it was impossible to apply the covers to the extensive banks course.
Should the Glenfarclas Chase for the PP Hogan Memorial Cup go ahead as planned, few will be prepared to oppose the 2008 winner Garde Champetre, whose aptitude for this niche affair has not really dimmed as a consequence of advancing years.
Boylesports.com Chase (1.50)
A vintage renewal of this Grade Two event is in prospect as Big Zeb, which ran away from old rival Golden Silver 12 months ago but fell two out when seemingly poised for victory in 2009, completes his pre-Cheltenham preparations in public.
An official rating of 174 reflects his presumed superiority over both Golden Silver (166) and Sizing Europe (160), but it's possible the latter was suffering from his Arkle Trophy exertions when only third to Golden Silver in April's Boylesports Champion Chase here.
As with Hurricane Fly and Solwhit, Big Zeb regularly has the measure of the busier main Willie Mullins contender, so anyone looking for an alternative to Colm Murphy's star performer might look towards Henry de Bromhead's Sizing Europe for a turn-up despite a dramatic drop back in trip this time.
Verdict: Don't desert Big Zeb now
Grand National Trial (2.20)
The Association of Irish Racehorse Owners back a Grade C likely grueller that hasn't been helped quality-wise by its close proximity to the rescheduled Red Mills Thyestes Chase, on top of the absence of Noel Glynn's original top-weight Becauseicouldntsee.
The Bowe family's previous course winner Coolcashin, which now heads the scale, is just one of several runners whose stamina for this three and a half miles in the mud has to be taken on trust, unlike regally-bred Streets Of Gold, which prospered in a similar Paddy Power Cork Grand National.
Anothercoppercoast, Some Target and Mirador Del Conde in particular have stamina questions to answer as well, whereas the penalised Droim Toll, Rocco's Hall and Not Before Eight are closely matched on their recent Fairyhouse clash.
Verdict: Streets Of Gold is the percentage call
Moscow Flyer Novice Hurdle (2.50)
The penalised Gagewell Flyer, which seems to revel in a front-running role, sets the standard here as he's been nominated to represent champion trainer Willie Mullins in preference to runaway Leopardstown maiden winner So Young and the enigmatic Bishopsfurze.
Noel Meade's Joe Smooth lived up fully to his name in maiden company over this route earlier this month, having previously led in the pack at Leopardstown behind Dermot Weld's classy Hidden Universe, which was an even more significant defector from this Grade Two test yesterday.
Henry de Bromhead's promising Byerley Bear, which scored in both a bumper and maiden hurdle in Cork, another course and distance winner Seafield and the one-paced Big Game Hunter face stiff tasks in this company, with French-import Earlson Gray possibly aiding the top-weight's cause by acting as a pacemaker.
Verdict: Gagewell Flyer for the hat-trick