De Bromhead still Sizing up his Festival options
Despite the opening frenzy of the Cheltenham Festival being just four days away, the exact targets for Sizing Europe and First Lieutenant remain unconfirmed.
With a combined haul of three wins and two gallant seconds from five appearances at the last three Festivals, Sizing Europe and First Lieutenant boast a record that, of those set to travel from these shores next week, only Quevega and Sir Des Champs can match.
However, Henry de Bromhead is still trying to ascertain whether or not to pit Sizing Europe against the odds-on favourite Sprinter Sacre in a bid to regain the Champion Chase crown that he forfeited in controversial circumstances last year.
The Ryanair Chase might be deemed the "easier" option were it not for the fact that so many other Queen Mother defectors have already been reassigned to the two-mile-five-furlong contest. That said, it is the prospect of testing ground at the Cotswolds venue that currently has De Bromhead leaning towards a third tilt at the two-miler.
The going at Cheltenham is now good to soft, good in places after four millimetres of rain on Monday night, with a further 11 millimetres forecast to fall before Tuesday, at which point there is a considerable threat of frost. "With the way the ground is going, I think I'm leaning towards the Champion Chase," De Bromhead admitted of Sizing Europe, before then adding: "But it really is still 50-50 as to which race we go for."
At a top price of 6/1, Sizing Europe trades at identical odds for both Grade Ones. It is a different story with First Lieutenant, as Mouse Morris' 2011 Neptune Novices' hurdle hero is as big as 12/1 to turn the tables on Bobs Worth – his conqueror in the RSA Chase 12 months ago – in the Gold Cup over three and a quarter miles.
The Gigginstown Stud-owned son of Presenting is the clear 9/2 second favourite behind Cue Card in the Ryanair market. Davy Russell is certain to ride Gigginstown's dual Festival winner Sir Des Champs in the Gold Cup, but Morris, who has confirmed Rule The World for the Neptune, remains reluctant to avoid making the champion jockey's life less nerve-racking by committing First Lieutenant to the shorter event.
"It's still 50-50 which race he'll run in," he said, echoing De Bromhead's stance. "He'll be left in the Ryanair and the Gold Cup at the confirmation stage and we'll look at the fields in both races before we make a decision. He's in great shape."
In all, after Tom George opted to supplement the French import Mail De Bievre for the Sportingbet-sponsored Champion Chase at a cost of £17,500, a field of 10 has stood its ground for Wednesday's showpiece, with Willie Mullins' Hurricane Fly also set to face a maximum of nine rivals when he attempts to regain the Champion Hurdle on Tuesday. Nicky Henderson's trio of Grandouet, Binocular, Oscar Whisky are all still potential rivals, with Paul Nicholls relying solely on Zarkandar, as Harry Fry is set to saddle Rock On Ruby, which ran for Nicholls when successful 12 months ago.
Mullins yesterday cleared up one area of uncertainty by stating that Boston Bob would tackle Wednesday's RSA Chase, rather than the four-mile National Hunt Chase, with fellow Graham Wylie-owned Back In Focus filling that breach.