Ruby to sparkle on Golden Silver
The pecking order in the proposed Irish challenge to Master Minded's festival hat-trick ambitions in the Queen Mother Champion Chase should become a little clearer after the Tied Cottage Chase at Punchestown tomorrow.
Highest-rated Big Zeb, which suffered an unfortunate tumble behind old adversary Mansony in the closing stages of last year's Grade Two renewal, attempts to put his Cheltenham ambitions back on track.
This pair are expected to be tested severely by the bang-in-form Golden Silver on which local hero Ruby Walsh, who invariably partners Master Minded, takes over the reins from his understudy Paul Townend.
Willie Mullins could hardly have French import Golden Silver in better shape at the moment for Cork's O'Leary family and preference for the prevailing ground conditions could prove a trump card for Walsh's mount.
Following a facile success on his seasonal return at Navan, Big Zeb was never able to go the pace behind Twist Magic the Tingle Creek Chase at Sandown where his compatriot Forpadydeplasterer fared much better.
The latter hasn't appeared in public since and could take in the Red Mills Chase at Gowran Park in a fortnight or head straight back to Cheltenham where he triumphed in the Irish Independent Arkle Trophy last March.
Thus the way is clear tomorrow for either Big Zeb, a faller behind Master Minded in the festival showdown last season, or Golden Silver to step up to the mark and book their passage to the glamour fixture.
Colm Murphy would no doubt welcome a change of luck after Voler La Vedette's minor setback that ruled her out of the Toshiba Irish Champion Hurdle and the early exit of Zaarito from last Sunday's Arkle Novice Chase.
There's no doubt Big Zeb has the inherent ability to deliver again and might manage it under Barry Geraghty if in the same shape as when they gave Master Minded a real fright in their return match here last April.
While their current ratings give the edge to Murphy's charge, it may take a leap of faith to back Big Zeb instead of Golden Silver presuming they avoid mishaps in what promises to be a race to savour despite a mere five acceptors.
The Moscow Flyer Novice Hurdle has fared marginally better with a half-dozen survivors and likewise we have the distinct prospect of a showdown materialising in the closing stages between Hollo Ladies and Saludos.
The penalty picked up by Hollo Ladies following his neck defeat of Saludos after a protracted duel in a similar Leopardstown contest hands the initiative to course and distance winner Saludos in theory at least.
The top weight is 9lb worse off this time at the revised weights which makes his task in trying to follow up that 25/1 shocker at the Foxrock track quite daunting despite his profile as a pronounced improver.
The 131-rated Luska Lad which crashed out at Naas behind Ballyholland needs to brush up considerably on his jumping if he's to be competitive again while the Saludos camp will have taken fresh heart from yesterday's victory of stable companion Bostons Angel under top weight in the finale at Doncaster.
Enda Bolger's veteran Heads Onthe Ground and Tom O'Leary's Tawnies, which have prospered at Punchestown in the past, could be worth following again in the Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase and the Grand National Trial.