Sizing Europe remains the king of the two-mile chasing division after an imperious display in the Sportingbet Tingle Creek at Sandown yesterday.
Henry de Bromhead's pride and joy has been campaigned over a variety of different distances during the past couple of seasons, but as victories in the Arkle Trophy and Queen Mother Champion Chase would suggest, he appears at his most potent over the minimum trip.
Despite having won on four of his previous five starts on British soil, the Irish raider had question marks hanging over him ahead of his latest assignment, mainly due to a narrow defeat in a three-mile slog at Down Royal last month.
But allowed to go off as the 11/8 favourite with the rain-softened ground once again a concern, Andrew Lynch's mount rarely looked like not coming up with the goods.
Jumping with the verve that was the highlight of his two Festival victories, Sizing Europe flew the Railway Fences and he was vying for the lead soon before the turn for home.
Kauto Stone, a half-brother to dual Tingle Creek winner Kauto Star and another coming back in distance, also travelled easily and was the only one able to stick with Sizing Europe when the pace quickened.
But while Ruby Walsh got to work at the top of the straight, Lynch sat motionless and his mount produced another couple of exuberant leaps to seal an eight-length win. Bookmakers were impressed with Sizing Europe, with Ladbrokes clipping him to 3/1 from 5/1 to defend the Champion Chase.
"He jumped the second down the back a bit slow and that got me a little worried, but he winged the fence six from home and started to canter when the rest were struggling. It was phenomenal and apart from that mistake, he was brilliant," said De Bromhead.
At rain-sodden Aintree, meanwhile, West End Rocker was promoted to 14/1 favourite for the Grand National after demonstrating stamina in abundance when winning the Betfred Becher Chase.
The ground was changed to heavy after the third race following torrential downpours, making the three-mile-two-furlong test over the National fences a real event for the dour stayers. West End Rocker, trained by Alan King, jumped superbly for Wayne Hutchinson and compensated for being brought down at Becher's in the big race last season.
West End Rocker's part-owner Barry Winfield said: "April is still a long way off. The Grand National is not really for me, the prize-money is good though, obviously. Usually, I would leave before the National to beat the traffic!"
Victor Chandler make West End Rocker the new 14/1 favourite for the race, cutting him from 25/1.
Tim Vaughan is also thinking of the National for Stewarts House after his thrilling victory in the Betfred Grand Sefton Chase. Bought for just £11,000 out of Arthur Moore's yard, he held off his former stablemate Linnel, which made a mess of the final fence.
At Fairyhouse, Willie Mullins was the man to follow yet again as he notched a near 4/1 treble highlighted by the victories of Mikael D'Haguenet and Sir Des Champs.
Mikael D'Haguenet rewarded Mullins' faith with what was ultimately a comfortable victory, but it looked to be a far from straightforward task when Head Of The Posse surged from the last.
Sir Des Champs was the 2/7 favourite for on his fencing bow in the Johnny Lumley "Arkle Groom" Lifetime Achievement Beginners Chase. The gelding won the conditional jockeys' hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival back in March and Davy Russell oozed confidence yesterday.
Sunday Indo Sport