Sizing flying ahead of Punchestown

Sizing Europe remains on course for the Boylesports.com Champion Chase at Punchestown on Tuesday.

Sizing Europe remains on course for the Boylesports.com Champion Chase at Punchestown on Tuesday.

The 10-year-old was narrowly beaten by Finian’s Rainbow when defending his crown in a controversial Queen Mother Champion Chase at last month’s Cheltenham Festival.

The final fence had to be bypassed, which some say may have hindered Henry de Bromhead’s stable star. Either way, the form looks rock solid with Finian’s Rainbow coming out and winning the Melling Chase at Aintree last week and De Bromhead is thrilled with him ahead of his latest assignment.

“He seems in good form. He worked this morning and worked well, he’s schooling well and everything seems good, so we’re aiming for Tuesday. His form is pretty solid around Punchestown,” said De Bromhead.

The County Waterford handler is preparing a strong team for the Punchestown Festival as a whole.

He told At The Races: “Sizing Rio is a nice young horse and he’ll probably run in the four-year-old bumper, Buckers Bridge won in Gowran and he might run in the winner’s bumper and Sizing Australia will go for either the La Touche Cup on Thursday or possibly the three-mile cross-country race on the Saturday.

“Berties Dream is in the three-mile Grade One hurdle (Ladbrokes.com World Series Hurdle). He’s as tough as you can get. He won on heavy ground over fences at Thurles in January and then went back there to win on fast ground over hurdles.”

Sizing Europe could faces up to nine rivals following the latest entry stage for Tuesday’s feature event, including old rival Big Zeb. He beat Sizing Europe by three-quarters of a length in this contest 12 months ago, but the tables have been turned in two subsequent meetings, with Big Zeb a well-beaten third at Cheltenham last time.

The Philip Hobbs-trained Wishfull Thinking fell at Cheltenham before finishing second to Finian’s Rainbow at Aintree and he could feature at the third major spring Festival. The only other British entry is Gauvain from the Nick Williams stable.

Paul Nolan’s Noble Prince will be on a recovery mission if he lines up having pulled up in the Ryanair Chase at Cheltenham, while Captain Cee Bee, China Rock, Forpadydeplasterer, Realt Dubh and Zaarito complete the entries.

Bolger gives Light Epsom option

Light Heavy could try to gain a wild-card entry for Epsom’s premier Classic as the winner of the Investec Derby Trial at the Surrey venue on Wednesday.

Jim Bolger’s charge is among 18 entries for the Class 2 race that is run over the last 10 furlongs of the Derby course.

Light Heavy is one of seven possibles who do not hold an entry in the Derby and the winner will gain automatic entry for the June 2 showpiece. Bolger is considering asking the colt to turn out again next week following his second success of the season in the Ballysax Stakes at Leopardstown on Sunday.

“Light Heavy could run in the Investec Derby Trial on Wednesday,” said Bolger.

“We will look at the entries and then make a decision. He has come out of the Ballysax Stakes in good order. If he runs, the idea behind it will be to try to gain a wild-card entry into the Investec Derby, as he is not currently entered.

“His progress this season hasn’t surprised us because we have always thought of him as a high-class colt, but he has taken his time to develop. We were delighted with his debut run last season and he is the type of horse that will progress right through the season.

“If he doesn’t run in the Investec Derby Trial, he will go to the Group Two Derrinstown Derby Trial at Leopardstown in May.”

Next week’s trial has attracted a decent entry, including three from Aidan O’Brien’s Ballydoyle yard - Astrology, Imperial Monarch and Thomasgainsborough.

Among the home brigade are Bordoni, Cameron Highland, Dark Stranger, Main Sequence, Mister Music, Mojave and Unex Michaelangelo.

Neptune lunges late for glory

Neptune Collonges became the first grey to win the John Smith’s Grand National since 1961 and added the only major prize missing from trainer Paul Nicholls’ trophy collection in a desperately tight finish at Aintree.

Neither Jonjo O’Neill, the trainer of runner-up Sunnyhillboy who was later to find his Gold Cup winner Synchronised had lost his life in action, nor Nicholls was quite sure whether it was to be their day as the pair flashed past the line together, before a margin of a nose was announced in favour of the 33-1 chance.

Neptune Collonges and Daryl Jacob had greater momentum than Richie McLernon and Sunnyhillboy as they remorselessly clawed back the lead, and they hauled themselves over the line just in front virtually to secure Nicholls yet another trainers’ championship. Seabass was third under Katie Walsh.

There was only one grey hero last century, Nicolaus Silver 51 years ago, and Neptune Collonges’s late lunge for victory was by the shortest possible winning distance before a dead-heat has to be announced.

Jacob dedicated the moment to his late best friend Kieran Kelly, a highly accomplished jockey himself. He said: “Kieran looked after me when I worked for Dessie Hughes and he virtually kicked me out of the house to go and ride in England, so without him I wouldn’t be here. It is the same with Robert and Sally Alner - I’m just happy to repay them.

“I didn’t know where the winning line was but I knew that, inch by inch, I was starting to grind him down. Luckily enough the line came and we held on just enough to get there. Nipper (Neptune Collonges) was going as fast at the start as he was at the end - he knew what pace he was going and I just trusted him on it.”

Nicholls, who had saddled 52 previous runners, getting closest with runner-up Royal Auclair in 2005, added: “I kept saying to my wife Georgie that he was probably the best horse we’ve run in the race - if it wasn’t for Kauto and Denman he would have won a Gold Cup.

“He’s been placed in Gold Cups, he’s won Grade Ones, he stays and he’s genuine. Gold Cup form counts for an awful lot and Daryl went the brave man’s route, and little short-cuts make all the difference. I had given up on the championship after the day Nicky (Henderson) has had, so it’s a surprise.

“This was going to be his last race and he’ll be retired now. He can go out in a field over the summer with Denman and Kauto Star and have a wonderful home (with owner John Hales) for life. Good old Neptune.”

Hales said: “After what happened a few years ago with One Man (who was killed at the meeting), the place has owed me that one. It split the family coming here. My wife was 50-50, my daughter couldn’t face it. She has gone showjumping down in South Wales - she has probably jumped off the horse if she is in the middle of the round!”

Alderwood seeking Champion honours

Alderwood features among 16 acceptors at the five-day stage for the Evening Herald Champion Novice Hurdle at Punchestown on Tuesday.

The Tom Mullins-trained eight-year-old has been in cracking form of late, winning the County Hurdle at Cheltenham and a Grade Two novice event at Fairyhouse’s Easter fixture.

Allure Of Allusion, who took runner-up spot in the latter event, is one of six remaining entries from the Willie Mullins stable.

The others are Felix Yonger, Laganbank, Midnight Game, Simenon and Terminal.

The Charles Byrnes-trained Trifolium, third in the Supreme Novices’ at Cheltenham, Jessica Harrington’s Steps To Freedom and Dermot Weld’s Galileo’s Choice also catch the eye in this two-mile heat.

Sir highlights Growise possibles

Willie Mullins’ exciting young gelding Sir Des Champs is among 12 entries confirmed at the five-day stage for the Growise Champion Novice Chase at Punchestown on Tuesday.

The six-year-old took his unblemished record over the bigger obstacles to four with an impressive victory in the Jewson Novices’ Chase at Cheltenham.

Mullins is responsible for three other possibles in the Grade One contest - Bishopsfurze, Call The Police and Lambro.

First Lieutenant, second to Bobs Worth in the RSA Chase at last month’s Festival, has stood his ground for Mouse Morris while a fascinating contender is Irish National hero Lion Na Bearnai, one of only five horses trained by Tom Gibney. A top quality entry is completed by Frisco Depot, Medical Card, Mossey Joe, Ninetieth Minute, Ordinary Man and Shop DJ.

Alderwood features among 16 acceptors for the Evening Herald Champion Novice Hurdle on the same day.

The Tom Mullins-trained eight-year-old has been in cracking form of late, winning the County Hurdle at Cheltenham and a Grade Two novice event at Fairyhouse’s Easter fixture.

Allure Of Allusion, who took runner-up spot in the latter event, is one of six remaining entries from the Willie Mullins stable.

The others are Felix Yonger, Laganbank, Midnight Game, Simenon and Terminal. The Charles Byrnes-trained Trifolium, third in the Supreme Novices’ at Cheltenham, Jessica Harrington’s Steps To Freedom and Dermot Weld’s Galileo’s Choice also catch the eye in this two-mile heat.

Sea on Classic trail

Born To Sea remains on course to follow in the hoofprints of his esteemed sibling Sea The Stars in the Qipco 2000 Guineas.

The latter kicked off his three-year-old campaign with victory in the Newmarket Classic and went on to win a further five Group One prizes that year including the Investec Derby at Epsom and the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe at Longchamp.

Born To Sea clearly has plenty to live up to, but showed enough in his two juvenile starts - winning at the Curragh before finishing second in Leopardstown’s Killavullan Stakes - to suggest he can uphold family honour to some degree.

“We thought about running him in a trial but we were happy with him at home and we took the decision that he didn’t need to have a race. The plan is for him to go straight to Newmarket now and hopefully we’re doing the right thing,” said Oxx.

“We’ve had no setbacks at all with him and everything has gone nicely.

“He’s pleasing me at home, but things can change quickly, so fingers crossed.”

Landmark deal for Irish racing

Irish racing has received a major shot in the arm with news of a multi-million-euro deal with China to help set up a thoroughbred industry in the Far East.

Under the agreement, top stud farm Coolmore in County Tipperary will help China set up a similar operation. Sited in Tianjin, China’s fourth largest city, the planned world-class equine centre will be the first of its kind in the country. It is due to open next year.

The facility will be stocked with broodmares from Ireland, while stallions will also be sent out.

“This has been cultivated for some years. Horse Racing Ireland has an international marketing wing and we’ve been entertaining delegations from China for some years. They’ve been seeing our stud farms and coming to our sales,” said Michael O’Rourke, HRI’s director of marketing and communication.

“What is particularly exciting about this is that this is the first deal of its kind done by the Chinese government. That is a big plus. They have been saying very nice things about us, that we are a world leader. The HRI message would be that Ireland is the best country in which to breed racehorses.

“Ireland is the biggest producer of thoroughbred foals in Europe. We are punching well above our weight and that has got through to them. Irish stallions have led the sires list for the last 20 years. The Epsom Derby and the Cheltenham Gold Cup have been dominated by Irish-bred horses”.