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Sizing too big for Zeb

HAIL, rain or shine, it doesn't matter, whatever you do make sure and get to Punchestown tomorrow afternoon because while it may be only day one of the Irish National Hunt Festival, it is a card that features plenty of horses that are worth the admission fee alone.

The feature race on the first day of proceedings at the home of Irish jump racing is the Boylesports.com Champion Chase which, just like 12-months ago, is a battle between two of the classiest two-milers in recent years - Big Zeb and Sizing Europe.

Both have enjoyed some memorable tussles over the recent seasons, most memorably at this meeting last year, and tomorrow they look set to lock horns again.

Henry de Bromhead's Sizing Europe didn't get the run of the race in a dramatic Champion Chase at Cheltenham where the last fence was omitted and ironically only for the quick thinking of his jockey Andrew Lynch on that occasion, both Sizing Europe and eventual winner Finian's Rainbow with Barry Geraghty, could have possibly jumped the bypassed fence, leading to Big Zeb being crowned the champion again.

Nevertheless, Big Zeb was well enough beaten back in third and at 11, he appears to have his hands full again tomorrow. Despite that, Colm Murphy is as good a trainer as you will find and he will have him well primed for the Sizing Europe rematch which also features the likes of Captain Cee Bee and Noble Prince.

Sizing Europe did manage to get the better of Big Zeb in Cheltenham and in their pre-Cheltenham prep race at Punchestown in the Boylesports.com Tied Cottage Chase and it would be hard to see Sizing Europe not franking that form on this occasion.

Sir Des Champs, who lines up in the Growise Champion Novice Chase, is definitely one of those horses who is worth the entry fee as he puts his unbeaten record on the line following an impressive Cheltenham Festival win last month.

The Willie Mullins-trained, Gigginstown Stud-owned six-year-old is undoubtedly in the same league as Flemenstar as the pair look set to be our closest things to an Irish Gold Cup contender since War Of Attrition won the race back in 2006.

Despite such a widely renowned and lofty reputation that he carries into tomorrow's opening day, Sir Des Champs has in fact never before raced in a Grade One, despite being a dual Cheltenham Festival winner, but it would appear that he faces a pretty straightforward assignment in cutting his teeth at this level.

Opposition to Sir Des Champs is interesting in that the 151-rated Mossey Joe is an intended runner after a lengthy lay-off, as is the ever progressing Irish National winner Lion Na Bearnai.

Mossey Joe was full of promise suffering defeat only three times in his albeit lightly-raced career, and looked set to carry 12st to victory in a competitive Down Royal handicap chase before crumbling on landing at the third last and then just finishing in pretty much his own time.

With such a hefty rating, the Irish handicapper has him up there with some of our top novices from this season, albeit 11lbs adrift of the favourite Sir Des Champs, but it'll be interesting to see how he fares.


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