Murphy says Zeb 'A1' for Festival rehearsal
Punchestown is set to feature an enthralling renewal of the Tied Cottage Chase on Sunday, which will be sponsored by Punchestown's Champion Chase sponsors Boylesports for the first time.
Entries weren't yet closed by the time we went to print this morning but the trainers of three of Ireland's leading 2m chasers were all intending on sending their charges for the Grade Two contest.
Queen Mother Champion Chase winner Big Zeb is ready to have his last run before defending his Cheltenham crown in March and trainer Colm Murphy reports him to be "A1" ahead of Sunday.
"Touch wood now he seems to be A1 and the plan remains, and has been for a while, to go to the Tied Cottage on Sunday," the Wexford handler told the Herald. "The ground isn't really an issue but I just hate running him on heavy ground but it probably won't matter, it's just not ideal."
After Master Minded only scraped home to win the Victor Chandler Chase, many will fancy Big Zeb to be on course for another win at Cheltenham but Murphy is keen not to concentrate on the opposition.
"I'm sure Paul Nicholls and AP (McCoy) will have their views on it, but I'm not really concentrating on them. Brave Inca used to struggle to win a Hattons Grace and that was against horses rated 130, so I wouldn't read too much into it -- he will be better in a proper run 2m race," Murphy said.
Yesterday, trainer Henry de Bromhead confirmed that his stable star Sizing Europe would be dropping back in trip on Sunday after his attempt to run in the 3m King George was scuppered by travel.
Sizing Europe had gone for the original scheduling of the Kempton race but travelled over badly and connections opted against going for the re-fixture earlier this month.
Having won the Arkle at Cheltenham last season, dropping him back to 2m shouldn't be a major hindrance and may even prove a deciding factor as to what race he runs in at the Festival this time around.
"We are keeping all our options open and I just didn't want to run him in the likes of a Hennessy which can be a tough slog," de Bromhead said.
"We don't want to tear the heart out of him, so we said we'd go back to the shorter trip and see how we go on Sunday and take it from there really."
De Bromhead wasn't to be drawn on whether Sizing Europe will contest the Champion Chase at Cheltenham but he does have the horse in the race along with the Ryanair Chase and the Gold Cup, meaning a decision is not one that will have to be rushed.
"I'm not going to say anything on which race we may go for. It's up to Alan and Ann Potts at the end of the day to decide," he said. The trainer concluded by saying he hoped travelling won't become an issue again.
Willie Mullins is looking forward to sending his great stalwart Golden Silver to the race also. The nine-year-old has never beaten Big Zeb in their four meetings but has won over €500,000 in prize money including three Grade Ones and as many Grade Twos.
"We're looking forward to running Golden Silver at Punchestown," said Mullins. "But it's a case of making hay while the sun doesn't shine as he's basically a winter ground horse."
The Boylesports.com Tied Cottage Chase is the showpiece on a seven race card which also features the Grade Two Moscow Flyer Novice Hurdle, a Pertemps Qualifier for the final at Cheltenham, the Grand National Trial and the ever exciting Glenfarclas PP Hogan Memorial Cross Country Chase.
Punchestown are offering a special offer until February 16th whereby reserved enclosure tickets for their Festival meeting in May can be bought for the price of general admission.