Sizing does a 'savage' job on Zeb
De Bromhead's star nails down Festival form
EVERY year Irish punters go to Cheltenham with their Irish banker and although it seems there are a number of options this year, after yesterday's comprehensive success many will be putting most of their eggs in the Sizing Europe basket.
The current two-mile champion chaser, who led home an Irish-trained 1-2-3-4 in last year's Queen Mother Champion Chase at the Cheltenham Festival when a 10/1 shot, is now a best priced 6/4 to regain his crown.
Only three runners went to post for the Boylesport.com Tied Cottage Chase and no-hoper Imperial Shabra attempted to cut the running, but when Sizing Europe took over at the second fence he soon bossed proceedings from the front.
Despite joining Sizing Europe briefly, Big Zeb was always doing the chasing and when Andrew Lynch kicked on the odds-on favourite, he went about his business with an authoritative manner that impressed many.
Henry de Bromhead, like a lot us, expects a bolder showing from Big Zeb come Champion Chase day at Cheltenham but he did describe the performance of his stable star as simply "savage".
"I'm delighted with that," said De Bromhead afterwards. "Andrew said he didn't jump like he normally does but I thought he was brilliant to be honest! But I suppose on the ground he just got in and popped at a few of them, rather than let fly like he usually does."
The Waterford handler added: "That was a savage performance and it is great for Irish racing to have two champions running here in what is a stepping stone for both horses before Cheltenham.
"There is usually not very much between Sizing Europe and Big Zeb, it's so close, and obviously today was a once off an I'd expect them to be a lot closer at Cheltenham."
De Bromhead suggested that the tactics employed today made a big difference to the outcome.
"He is an amazing horse to be involved with.
"It took me five or six years to be brave enough to let him roll along in front and make the running like that.
"Going out I just told Andrew to let himself and the horse enjoy himself, and if Imperial Shabra took them along well and good, but not to be afraid to let him roll at his own pace."
After a magnificent display in the Tingle Creek and now such a wide victory in yesterday's Tied Cottage Chase at Punchestown, all roads lead back to the Cotswolds for Sizing Europe, who will be looking to win at the Festival for a third year in a row.
As for Big Zeb, his trainer Colm Murphy pinpointed the ground as the major downfall for his 2010 Champion Chase hero and although eased in the betting, de Bromhead's summary afterwards is likely to be an accurate one about it being a closer contest next month.
Cheltenham is five weeks away tomorrow and now in the space of a week, Big Buck's, Hurricane Fly and Sizing Europe have all taken a big leap into regaining their respective crowns.
All three put in performances that could have arguably been their best outside of the Cheltenham Festival and many punters now believe that history can well repeat itself next month.
Other Cheltenham pointers on the day were Grade Two Moscow Flyer Novice Hurdle winner Trifolium, who easily justified favouritism (7/4) to book his place in the Supreme Novices' Hurdle. Initially, cut from 33/1 into 25/1, Boylesports had to further slash the price of the Gigginstown owned five-year-old to 16/1 and he is as low as 12/1 in places.
Scotsirish "made hard work" of winning the Glenfarclas PP Hogan Memorial Chase over the banks according to winning trainer Willie Mullins, but nevertheless the 4/9 shot held old favourite Garde Champetre by two lengths.
Scotsirish, along with stable companion Uncle Junior, will now head to Cheltenham for the Cross Country Chase on the opening day and yesterday's winner is now a general 5/2 chance for Cheltenham honours.