Nolan's Joncol can dig deep to conquer Europe
For the third time in as many years, Sizing Europe will, ground permitting, try to scale the three-mile mountain in today's JNwine.com Champion Chase at Down Royal.
In the past two renewals of the €140,000 Grade One, he has been undone only by the mighty Kauto Star and a valiant effort from Quito De La Roque. However, for all that, the ground should be more suitable than when Henry de Bromhead's star two-miler was overhauled agonisingly late on 12 months ago, this will still be a dour test.
While the willingness of de Bromhead and Sizing Europe's owner Alan Potts to take such a good horse outside his comfort zone is to be applauded, on the other hand it is hard to see exactly where such a strategy might lead. The 10-year-old former Arkle and Champion Chase hero, controversially denied his Cheltenham Festival hat-trick last March, is one of the very best two-mile chasers that this country has produced.
He looked on fine terms with himself when scoring over two and a half miles under Andrew Lynch at Gowran Park last month, but his efforts here in 2010 and 2011 suggest that, while he might stay three, he isn't nearly as effective over it. Moreover, with a high-class bunch of second-season chasers emerging, he will struggle to make an impact in marquee staying events such as the King George VI Chase and Cheltenham Gold Cup.
By the same token, when you recall how badly he laboured from the last fence 12 months ago, it's not hard to oppose him now.
Quito De La Roque is the obvious alternative, with Davy Russell opting for Colm Murphy's eight-year-old over fellow Gigginstown-owned First Lieutenant. A bad sinus problem kept him off the track after finishing third to the subsequent Gold Cup winner Synchronised in the Lexus Chase last year, but Murphy will have him ready.
Tom Mullins' Galway Plate winner Bob Lingo shouldn't be up to this, nor Paul Nicholls' Kauto Stone, which won the card's Grade Two in 2011. With Realt Dubh another better over shorter, then, the Paul Nolan-trained Joncol appeals at up to 12/1.
A dual Grade One winner, the nine-year-old has been beset by injury since bagging a famous Hennessy Gold Cup triumph in 2010, but there was plenty to like about his reappearance third at Punchestown last month. On his first start for 10 months, he was ultimately unable to land a clean punch on the cannily ridden, race-fit Roi Du Mee.
Nonetheless, Joncol boxed on gamely all the way home. If he can build on that now for his in-form stable, the gigantic Robbie Power-ridden slogger could go very close.
In the Ladbrokes.com Chase, Tony Martin's Russell-ridden Bog Warrior, a runaway winner of last year's Drinmore Chase, can account for Paul Nicholls' Cristal Bonus, with the nap vote going to John Nicholson's progressive mare Great Oak in the Tayto Group Handicap Hurdle.
Four times a winner and twice a runner-up in six starts over fences and on the Flat since June, Mark Enright's mount reverts to the smaller obstacles off a mark of 93 that has the potential to prove extremely favourable.
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