A DIFFERENT day, a different course and a different result.
At Cheltenham in March Sizing Europe slammed Big Zeb to the tune of five lengths, but at Punchestown last evening, in the Grade 1 boylesports.com Champion Chase, the placings were reversed.
There seems little doubt now that the undulations of Prestbury Park, and that final punishing hill, greatly play to the strengths of Sizing Europe.
He proved more than vulnerable here and, despite Timmy Murphy’s best urgings, just could not shake off the persistent Big Zeb.
The final verdict was three parts of a length and, truth to tell, the winner was worth a bit more than that.
Big Zeb got the fourth last all wrong and Barry Geraghty had to get after him faster than he probably wanted. As well as that Geraghty dropped his whip on the run-in.
Sizing Europe’s stable companion, Changing Course, made the early running, but wasn’t good enough to carry them for long and Murphy allowed the heavily-backed market-leader to lead at the fourth.
That error four from home knocked the stuffing out of Big Zeb, at least momentarily, and he turned for home with a couple of lengths to find.
He rallied in fine style, however, and the principals were in the air together over the second last.
Big Zeb soon moved on, but had to be pushed out vigorously on the flat by Geraghty to hold the renewed challenge of Sizing Europe.
Trainer Colm Murphy, said: “It is great to come here and win, especially after Cheltenham. Full credit to Sizing Europe. He was firing on all cylinders at Cheltenham and we weren’t and we were firing on all cylinders today and he probably wasn’t.
“Biz Zeb is not getting any younger and will be 11 next season. I won’t be making any definite plans and will take it race by race.”
Geraghty reported: "That rode a good race. The ground is beautiful and well watered, but my horse would have preferred it even better. I had no concerns, except for that mistake at the fourth last.
“I compare him a bit with Moscow Flyer, he has real guts and deserved today. Sizing Europe is very brave and went down fighting.”
Henry de Bromhead said of Sizing Europe: “I think he possibly misses the hill at Cheltenham, but I’ve no real excuses.”
Murphy completed a big Grade 1 double when Quito De La Roque landed the Growise Champion Novice Chase by 14 lengths.
The whole complexion of the contest changed at the 11th fence. Quel Esprit, backed from a morning price of 4-1 to 7-4 favourite, was galloping powerfully in front heading to the obstacle.
He jumped it beautifully, but then the loose 66-1 shot Kakagh ran across in front of him and Quel Esprit clipped that horse’s heels and was brought down.
Quito De La Roque was left in the lead and he powered away for Davy Russell to beat Western Charmer.
Commented Murphy: “He will be going for grass now and we will see what next season brings. He has to improve 20lbs to become a Gold Cup horse.”
Shot From The Hip, found to be coughing when disappointing in an ordinary contest at Gowran Park previously, was right back on track in the Evening Herald Champion Novice Hurdle.
Explained trainer, Edward O’Grady: "Ten minutes after the race at Gowran he was perfect and then five minutes later was coughing, it just shows what an inexact science it is.”
Tony McCoy was aboard and had the winner chasing the pace throughout. McCoy made his move coming away from the second last and Shot From The Hip lengthened clear to beat Hidden Universe by nine lengths.
O’Grady added: “We had him treated and, disregarding Gowran, thought he had a good chance.
“He is finished now for the season and will probably come back over fences. It is nice to have a Grade 1 winner for JP (McManus, owner), it is a while since I had one.”
Champion jockey-elect, Paul Townend, consolidated his position at the top of the table when taking the “3” Handicap Hurdle on Willie Mullins' Johnny McGeeney.
The championship finishes here on Saturday and Townend now leads Davy Russell by five, 80-75. He will be the first jockey from Cork to be champion since the second World War.
He pushed Johnny McGeeney ahead going to the final flight, but the winner was slow at the obstacle, giving favourite, Nearest The Pin, every chance.
In a driving finish, however, it was Johnny McGeeney who showed the greater resolution to score by a neck.
Said Mullins: “That is the first time this season he has had his ground and may now be aimed at the Galway Hurdle.”
Noel Meade’s newcomer, Texas Jack, was impressive in the valuable Goffs' Land Rover Bumper.
He found a real turn of foot inside the furlong pole to sweep clear for Jason McKeown and score by an unflattering two lengths.
“I thought the ground wouldn’t be slow enough for him, but he quickened really well,” said Meade. “He won’t run again this season.”
McKeown, however, was suspended for three days for using his whip with excessive force and frequency.
Brian Hayes, who partnered Tubs And Jugs in this race, was suspended for ten days for using his whip unnecessarily.
The Kildare Hunt Club Race, over the banks, saw a familiar ending with John Thomas McNamara guiding Enda Bolger’s Outlaw Pete, initiating a double for JP McManus, to success.
In an eventful contest, McNamara produced his charge to hit the front going to the last to beat the always prominent Wedger Pardy.
Commented Bolger: “John Thomas is a wily old fox and just hunted away.”
Paul Nolan's newcomer King Vuvuzela, a 25-1 shot, led early in the straight to win the Finlay Motor Group Bumper by five lengths.
* The attendance was 13,721 compared to 14,177 last year.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved