Sizing Europe faces a few familiar foes as the newly-crowned champion chaser bids to cement his status in the feature event on the first day of the Punchestown Festival, the Boylesports.com Champion Chase.
A field of six has been declared for the centrepiece of the twilight fixture, including Big Zeb, Captain Cee Bee and Golden Silver -- second, third and fourth respectively behind Henry de Bromhead's star at Cheltenham in March.
With the rejuvenated Co Kildare native Timmy Murphy filling in for the injured Andrew Lynch on Sizing Europe, the Grade One promises a definitive showdown between our finest two-mile chasers.
The opening programme of the five-day climax to the 2010/2011 jumps season numbers two other Grade Ones on a mixed-quality support card. That said, the ongoing battle between Paul Townend and Davy Russell for the riders' championship provides an engaging sub-plot, and is sure to add to the evening's appeal.
Following on from last week's impressive attendance when the sun shone at Fairyhouse, Punchestown officials will be desperately hoping to avoid the heavy rain that hit much of the country yesterday. Nonetheless, a little would be welcome to ensure that the ground, officially described as good yesterday, remains safe.
3.40 Kildare Hunt Club Fr Sean Breen Memorial Chase
Wedger Pardy and Zest For Life have shared the past three runnings of this. Last year's winner Zest For Life is better off at the weights this time, but his stable-mate Outlaw Pete is also worth considering.
Fourth on his debut over the banks 12 months ago, JT McNamara's mount earned his first point-to-point win of the season last time, so he comes here in form.
Verdict: Outlaw Pete might just shade it.
4.20 Evening Herald Champion Novice Hurdle
In a substandard Grade One that only Oilily can boast a single graded win, Rathlin turns out quickly after his luckless Fairyhouse defeat. If Davy Russell's mount is none the worse for his exertions eight days ago, he sets the standard.
Jumping errors were his downfall at Fairyhouse, but he really impressed previously when sixth in the Supreme Novices' Hurdle at Cheltenham. Far Away So Close confirmed that he is progressive when pinching a handicap at Aintree, while Shot From The Hip and Hidden Universe should still have their best days ahead of them.
Verdict: Rathlin in a tricky-looking contest.
4.55 The '3' Handicap Hurdle
Off a 13lb-higher mark than when coasting home at Fairyhouse, Nearest The Pin may be the one to beat with 9st 10lb on his back. On just his fifth start, he is probably still ahead of the handicapper, but this is wide-open.
Of Willie Mullins' three, the unexposed Wee Giant catches the eye. A winner on his hurdling debut in September, Wee Giant returned from a break to be third at Ballinrobe last week, and is nicely in off 10st 1lb on his first try in handicap company.
The in-form Salesin is on a hat-trick, with Grey Soldier not to be forgotten after a decent effort to be fourth on the Flat recently. Silver Friend is another that appeals as an each-way prospect now that he encounters some better ground.
Verdict: Nearest The Pin to maintain his progress.
5.30 Boylesports.com Champion Chase
Sizing Europe will be a formidable opponent if he can reproduce the all-round performance that saw him demolish the Champion Chase field at Cheltenham. A fair third in this last year as a novice after landing the Irish Independent Arkle Trophy, the experiment over longer distances earlier in the season proved inconclusive, and he was still below his best when third to Golden Silver and Big Zeb here in January.
Big Zeb obviously remains a serious danger but, with the prospect of rain getting into the watered ground, the biggest threat to Sizing Europe may indeed be Golden Silver. He had Forpadydeplasterer back in second when taking this 12 months ago, and confirmed his affinity for Punchestown when taking those scalps in January.
Verdict: Sizing Europe to confirm his superiority.
6.05 Goffs Land Rover Bumper
Lots of unknown quantities in this valuable bumper. Noel Meade's Texas Jack, a brother to the formerly useful Drumconvis, is interesting, though Nina Carberry has opted for stablemate Johannisberger.
While Willie Mullins' Mr Carson is another well-bred newcomer, Black Zorro is the one with racecourse form. Charlie Swan's son of Vinnie Roe found only the classy Waheeb too good on his debut.
Verdict: Black Zorro has established his potential.
6.40 Growise Champion Novice Chase
Quito De La Roque brings an excellent chasing record into this cracking Grade One.
The race that he completed his hat-trick in at Aintree wasn't as good, but everything went wrong for him on unsuitably quick going that day, yet he still ground out a brave win. This slower track will suit him better, while any rain would also help.
Quel Esprit remains a horse of immense potential, but his jumping has let him down badly when he has stepped up in class most recently. If he brushes up his fencing under Ruby Walsh, a big run is expected.
Irish Grand National runner-up Western Charmer, Loosen My Load, Thegreatjohnbrowne and Reve De Sivola are all contenders. The latter, a winner here in 2010, is getting his act together over fences now.
Verdict: Quito De La Roque should record a first triumph at this level.
7.15 Finlay Motor Group INH Flat Race
Don't Back Down is a well-bred son of Presenting that won on its point-to-point debut in March, so he could figure prominently here.
Gold Ability, Miradane, River Slaney and Streets Of Newyork all have respectable bumper form, while Morning Royalty and Liss A Chara are the pick of the newcomers.
With John Kiely's bumper horses at the top of their game, a market move for Liss A Chara would be significant.
Verdict: Liss A Chara to continue stable's good bumper record.