Europe set to conquer Champion
Henry de Bromhead reports Sizing Europe to be "bouncing" as he bids to end his season on a high in the Champion Chase on Tuesday.
The two-mile Grade One is the feature event of the opening day of the Punchestown Festival, and Sizing Europe aims for his first win in the race having been placed for the last two years.
The 10-year-old lost his crown in a controversial running of the Queen Mother Champion Chase at Cheltenham last month at the hands of Finian's Rainbow, with the pair swerving around the dolled off final fence.
"He seems in really good form. We had him out this morning and he nearly ran away with Andrew (Lynch). He's bouncing," said De Bromhead.
"We've had mixed weather and the ground is softer than you might have expected for this time of year, but it was pretty soft when he won the Tied Cottage Chase here in February and also in the Tingle Creek at Sandown, so hopefully he'll be all right.
"He seems fresh and well, so fingers crossed."
Sizing Europe's chief opponent would appear to be old rival Big Zeb.
Colm Murphy's 11-year-old was the narrow victor when the pair clashed in this race 12 months ago, but Sizing Europe has comprehensively come out on top in their two meetings this season.
Murphy hopes the application of cheekpieces may help his charge bridge the gap.
"We're sticking the cheekpieces on him just to try something new," said Murphy.
"He seems well in himself, but obviously on his last run in Punchestown we've got it all to do against Sizing Europe.
"I'm happy with him at home. Both him and Sizing Europe are coming to the end of long seasons, so who knows what will happen?
"We could have done with nicer ground, but we can't change that and we'll have a go and see what happens. We'll be doing plenty of hoping."
China Rock is an interesting contender for Mouse Morris, dropping back over a mile in distance having travelled well for a long way before weakening into eighth in the three-and-a-quarter-mile Cheltenham Gold Cup.
"We felt he didn't get the trip in Cheltenham and with the way the ground has gone we thought it would be worth having a crack at this," said Morris.
"He's in good shape and it's more of a finding out mission than anything to see how he gets on against the best over this distance.
"There are only six runners and if he can finish third or fourth he'll still pick up some decent prize-money."
Noel Meade's Realt Dubh was fifth in the Champion Chase at Cheltenham last month on what was his first run of the season, so he comes into this a fresher horse than most.
Completing the six-runner field is Captain Cee Bee and the sole British-trained runner, Gauvain.
As expected, Wishfull Thinking is an absentee and is set to run instead at Sandown on Saturday.