Punchestown: Ireland's premier jumping festival kicks off with a stellar castPICTURE: Patrick McCann (racingpost.com/photos)
Sizing, Sir and showers at soggy Punchestown
IT will be wet but it will be wonderful.
Conditions at Punchestown are set to be unusually testing for late April, but whilst racegoers mightfind themselves getting a tad damp or even a little muddy, the weather-inflicted woes will be worth it as Ireland's premier jumping festival kicks off with a cast headed by two winners of the Sportingbet Queen Mother Champion Chase and the favourite for next year's Betfred Cheltenham Gold Cup.
Not bad for starters. In terms of a head to head, few will be more anticipated over the coming five days than that between Sizing Europe and Big Zeb in the Boylesports.com Champion Chase.
Sizing Europe, runaway winner of the Cheltenham 2m championship in 2011, narrowly lost his crown last month following a controversial fight with Finian's Rainbow. He is odds-on to gain valuable compensation back on home soil and also reverse Punchestown placings with the now 11-year-old Big Zeb, who proved his nemesis in this race 12 months ago.
"It looks competitive and it is the end of the season, so you just never know," said Sizing Europe's trainer Henry De Bromhead.
"All I can say is that Sizing Europe seems to be very well. We've been happy with him since Cheltenham and everything seems good with him. We could have done with out all the rain, but you would have to say that our horse has shown that he handles most types of ground."
Groundconditions are set to be an irrelevance to the unbeaten Sir Des Champs, who trades at 1-4 to beat four rivals in the 3m1f Growise Champion Novice Chase.
So impressive when winning Cheltenham's Jewson Novices' Chase, Michael O'Leary's Sir Des Champs heads the market for the 2012 Gold Cup. Victory at Punchestown should surely be a formality.
Willie Mullins: trains Sir Des ChampsPICTURE: Patrick McCann
Trainer Willie Mullins said: "It will be his first run in a Grade 1 race and also his first run over the trip.
"He's a horse we've always thought the world of and he's ready now to step up in grade and distance. The trip should be no problem for him and he has shown that he is very adaptable in terms of ground."
That ground will be extremely demanding. A total of 13mm fell on the course on Sunday night into Monday morning and a further 3.5mm came down during Monday afternoon bringing the total rainfall for the past eight days to almost two inches.
As a result, conditions on the chase and hurdles tracks were on Monday evening described as soft, soft to heavy in places on the chase and hurdles track and soft on the banks course.
Punchestown manager Richie Galway said on Monday: "They were predicting up to 5mm today and we got 3.5. It's cleared off now and it looks like the rain has passed us but there are showers forecast tomorrow.
"We do have the benefit of having rested the ground over the winter, giving fresh ground on the chase course and fresh ground every day on the hurdle course."