Refreshed Big Zeb to power past his festive rivals
A triple-header of glamour Grade One races plus the €190,000 Paddy Power Handicap Chase jackpot is tempting fare for Leopardstown patrons this afternoon, as the country's leading bookmakers underwrite the lion's share of a card delayed by 48 hours.
Backed up by a competitive Listed mares hurdle and a tricky Grade Two bumper, the programme should shed plenty of light on future engagements here and in England as Big Zeb, Hurricane Fly and Zaidpour seek to follow up recent triumphs.
Successful in the Dial-A-Bet Chase on his seasonal return in 2008, Big Zeb, which was voted Horse Racing Ireland's Horse of the Year on foot of his Champion Chase romp at the Cheltenham festival, likewise resumed in style at Navan last month in the Fortria Chase when proving too quick in the closing stages for Golden Silver, which landed the Paddy Power promotion 12 months ago and has won since at Fairyhouse.
They re-engage today as Captain Cee Bee, which missed out on a step up to two and a half miles against Tranquil Sea in the John Durkan Memorial Chase at the Meath course, returns to the Foxrock circuit where he was a final-fence faller when challenging Sizing Europe for Grade One honours a year ago.
Meanwhile, the impressive Fairyhouse scorers Hurricane Fly and Zaidpour make a quick enough reappearance for the Willie Mullins stable and few serious punters will be keen to oppose them in the Festival Hurdle and the Future Champions Novice Hurdle, respectively.
Then it's the turn of a posse of handicap 'chasers from all corners of the country, plus a couple from England, to battle for the Paddy Power Chase, with Terence O'Brien's Troytown Chase runner-up Glenquest and Noel Glynn's Becauseicouldntsee among the prime fancies.
Future Champions Novice Hurdle (12.50)
There are five survivors for what is a significant step up for the emerging hurdling talent as both French import Zaidpour and Hidden Cyclone put their unblemished Irish records on the line as the market principals.
A little novicy jumping-wise at Navan, Hidden Cyclone missed out on a proposed return trip there earlier this month as he wasn't risked in icy conditions and he will need to be at his best to match strides with Zaidpour, which gave no quarter recently to his Fairyhouse rivals.
Verdict -- Zaidpour for a hat-trick.
Dial-A-Bet Chase (1.20)
Top-flight horses at this level are few and far between, so it's no surprise that they are not queueing up now to mix it with previous winners Big Zeb and Golden Silver plus Captain Cee Bee, all of which are entitled to be backed to take the prize.
Scotsirish can surely only be considered a second string to Golden Silver, and their stable companion J'y Vole will hardly be running again after her Lexus Chase exertions yesterday behind Pandorama, so the main question to be resolved is whether Captain Cee Bee is as effective as ever over the minimum trip.
This is a fact-finding mission of sorts therefore for his connections and they would no doubt be overjoyed to take a couple of famous scalps here.
However, on balance, Mark Walsh's mount could struggle in the ground here to keep tabs on the market principals.
Kept fresh since his Navan victory, Big Zeb has been giving all the right signals at home lately and can cope with Golden Silver once more.
Verdict -- Don't desert Big Zeb.
Festival Hurdle (1.55)
Once more, the established form and betting trends point to this prize resting between old foes Hurricane Fly and Solwhit, with the former 2-1 ahead on their meetings at Punchestown in the past and in Fairyhouse a fortnight ago over two and a half miles.
Back to the minimum trip now, Hurricane Fly should have a slight edge where a finishing kick is concerned, so we can expect to see Davy Russell committing last year's winner Solwhit first as he did at the Meath course before losing out on the run-in.
Verdict -- Go with Hurricane Fly.
Paddy Power Handicap Chase (2.30)
The usual cavalry charge is in prospect as one of the richest races in this category brings all sorts of challengers into the fray and it should not be forgotten that the sponsors have seen a variety of local hopes bringing home the bacon at odds well into double figures.
That said, we can expect the likes of Glenquest and also Becauseicouldntsee to remain at or towards the head of affairs betting-wise and these seven-year-olds could have a vital edge in fitness over English raider Skippers Brig and Clan Tara, which haven't raced for 382 days.
Clonmel heroine Leanne and previous course winner Stewarts House have to be respected, although the preference is for Becauseicouldntsee after a runaway Fairyhouse win as a novice and particularly his second to Poker De Sivola in the National Hunt Chase, where his stamina probably gave out over Cheltenham's four miles.
Verdict -- Becauseicouldntsee stands out.