De Bromhead plans long trip for Europe
Although any appreciable rain in the north could rule Sizing Europe out of Saturday's JNwine.com Champion Chase at Down Royal, Henry de Bromhead appears committed to trying his exceptional two-miler over staying distances once again.
Second to Kauto Star (2010) and Quito De La Roque (2011) in the past two renewals of the three-mile Grade One, the 2011 Queen Mother Champion Chase hero got his campaign under way with a fine triumph at Gowran Park over two and a half miles.
He has never won over further and, despite looking assured in victory in the season's first Grade One at Down Royal in 2011, he laboured badly after leading at the final fence.
In soft ground, Quito De La Roque, having looked spent for much of the way, wore him down on the run to the line.
Allied to Sizing Europe's outstanding efforts during the remainder of the season, which included a stunning Tingle Creek Chase coup and saw his sole defeat come when controversially denied by Finian's Rainbow in Cheltenham's two-mile showpiece after confusion reigned as they bypassed the final fence, the suspicion was that he might now stick to that at which he excels.
However, de Bromhead always refused to rule out having another stab at the longer trip.
Possibly mindful that his stable star is rising 11 years of age and buoyed by the fact that he has only been bettered by one horse each of the past two years in the north, the Waterford handler is considering a Saturday rematch with last year's Colm Murphy-trained winner if ground conditions, currently good to soft, are suitable.
"We've said we wouldn't run him unless the ground was pretty good," he said of Sizing Europe, which heads the weekend market at 5/2, half a point shorter than Quito De La Roque.
"You'd have to feel the ground played a part in his defeat last year -- it was soft to heavy. We'd love to see him over three miles on good ground."
Looking ahead, De Bromhead mapped out a diverse range of possibilities for his six-time Grade One-winner.
"In November we might look at the (two-mile) Fortria Chase or the (two-and-a-half-mile) Clonmel Oil Chase, and for his Christmas run the three options we are looking at are obviously the (three-mile) King George, the two-mile Chase at Leopardstown and the (three-mile) Lexus Chase there."
Along with Quito De La Roque, Roi Du Mee and Magnanimity, First Lieutenant is one of four Gigginstown Stud entries in Down Royal's highlight, but Mouse Morris is considering running him in the Charlie Hall Chase at Wetherby the same day.
"I'd say if you were to ask me now where I think he'll be running, it will be Wetherby," Morris revealed of the eight-year-old, which never posed a threat when fourth to Sizing Europe at Gowran.
"Decent ground will be a factor, although it's not bad at Down Royal. His first run will have brought him on a good deal."
In the Paddy Power Cork Grand National at Cork the following day, last year's TJ Nagle-trained winner The Bishop Looney is one of 21 potential starters, while Dessie Hughes has stated that the classy Minsk, second in graded company on its only jumps start at Fairyhouse last spring, should be ready to run over hurdles in a few weeks.
Meanwhile, Ken Whelan, one of the weigh room's most colourful characters and longest serving stalwarts at 41 years of age, has announced his retirement on medical advice, after fracturing vertebrae in his back for a third time.
Successful in the Kim Muir Chase at Cheltenham on Ferdy Murphy's Stop the Waller in 1996, Whelan finished fifth in the 1998 Aintree Grand National on Edward O'Grady's Gimme Five.