Big rivals clash in Cottage
Sizing Europe takes on Big Zeb for Grade 2 prize
Last Updated: February 3, 2012 11:49am
Just three rivals are set to line-up in the Boylesports.com Tied Cottage Chase at Punchestown on Sunday and it's effectively a match between Big Zeb and Sizing Europe with rank outsider Imperial Shabra their only opponent.
Henry de Bromhead's and Colm Murphy's horses have both won the Queen Mother Champion Chase in recent years and both head the antepost market for the Cheltenham Festival contest again after racking up more Grade One wins this season.
Sizing Europe won the Tingle Creek Chase at Sandown on his last start and the same comment applies to Big Zeb who won the Paddy Power Dial-A-Bet Chase at Leopardstown over Christmas.
Murphy said of Big Zeb on At The Races: "Punchestown has been very very good to him. We're very happy with him, everything has gone well with him so fingers crossed he goes well.
"Ideally he'd like better ground but that's the case for the others so hopefully he will go through it."
Big Zeb's owner Pat Redmond is placing a second victory in the Champion Chase as a greater priority than Sunday's Tied Cottage Chase.
He does have a chequered relationship with the Tied Cottage as a win in 2010 is sandwiched between a fall in 2009 and a defeat to Golden Silver 12 months ago - when Sizing Europe was even further away in third.
Redmond, who is involved in property and construction and lives close to Murphy's yard in Gorey, County Wexford, is also concerned about potentially heavy ground at Punchestown.
"He's done nothing wrong this season - he has been out twice and won twice, but he'll have strong competition at Punchestown," Redmond said.
"The ground won't be helpful, as he prefers better ground, but I know Colm is very happy with him.
"This is preparation for Cheltenham, so as long as he gets a clear round, we'll be happy."
Oliver Brady's Imperial Shabra is rated leagues behind the big two and set for some place prize money unless the unexpected happens.
Sizing Europe's trainer Henry de Bromhead is taking a similar view to Redmond about this event simply being a warm-up for Cheltenham.
The 10-year-old did not exactly impress over longer distances on his first two outings at Gowran and Down Royal but was electric when returned to two miles in the Tingle Creek at Sandown in December.
"We'll be focusing on Cheltenham and this is a stepping stone towards that," said De Bromhead.
"Obviously you want to try to win every race you contest.
"There's not much between our horse and Big Zeb - just 1lb difference in the ratings. They are two high-class horses and we're certainly lucky to have our fellow.
"He's in good form and we're hoping for a good run."
The organisers are optimistically making comparisons with the specially arranged match between Dawn Run and Buck House at the course in 1986, but it must first survive the weather.
Punchestown racing manager Richie Galway said: "The covers are down and have been since Tuesday.
"It's a labour intensive initiative but if it is the difference between racing going ahead or being abandoned it is well worth the effort.
"The hurdle and chase tracks are currently raceable and we are confident, based on the forecast, that there won't be any problems for Sunday.
"The cross country track is run over such an expanse it is not feasible to cover it. At present there are a small number of areas that are unraceable, however, if the milder temperatures arrive as forecast and given that we have moved the race to late in the day we are very hopeful."