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Last Updated: 01/11/13 1:20pm
Sizing Europe: Set for Down Royal
Sizing Europe is out to make it third time lucky in the JNwine.com Champion Chase for Henry De Bromhead at Down Royal on Saturday.
The seven-times Grade One scorer has yet to win a race beyond two and a half miles, but has filled the runner-up spot in this three-mile contest twice before.
The 11-year-old chased home the brilliant Kauto Star in 2010 and looked likely to go one better in 2011, only to be mown down on the run-in by Quito De La Roque.
With conditions unlikely to be as testing this weekend, Sizing Europe will be well fancied having appeared as good as ever when making a winning seasonal return in the PWC Champion Chase at Gowran Park in early October.
De Bromhead said: "He seems in good form and I've been very happy with him since his run in Gowran. It's a race we'd love to win. We love to win any races with him.
"Hopefully it will be nice jumping ground. He handles almost anything, you just wouldn't want it to turn into a slog, which hopefully it won't."
Sizing Europe's main market rival is the Mouse Morris-trained First Lieutenant, who suffered an odds-on reverse on his comeback run at Punchestown a little over two weeks ago.
Morris believes his star chaser will strip fitter for the run, however.
"Hopefully they don't get too much rain. Our horse handles better ground as well as most of them," said the trainer.
"Hopefully he's come on for his first run. He'll need to have done, but he seems to have at home anyway. It's a Grade One race and he has them all to beat. Sizing Europe is there and Paul Nicholls' horse (Kauto Stone) always runs well first time out. I respect them all."
First Lieutenant's jockey, Davy Russell, said: "It's going to be a very competitive race. He runs well around there and he improved for his first run last year so we will be hoping for the same sort of improvement."
Kauto Stone edged out First Lieutenant in a thrilling finish 12 months ago and landed the Ladbrokes.com Chase on the same card in 2011.
Results in between those races and since have been disappointing and Nicholls feels his charge may be at his best after a summer break.
He said: "He's obviously run and won at Down Royal for the last two years and goes well fresh. He has been really frustrating, but he's been over there for a couple of days and seems in good form. Hopefully he'll run well, but he is very hard to predict, as you can imagine."
One of last season's top novice chasers, Mount Benbulben, is an interesting contender for trainer Gordon Elliott and owner Barry Connell.
The eight-year-old signed off last season with a brilliant display at the Punchestown Festival, but Connell warns he may not line up this weekend if conditions are deemed unsuitable.
Connell said: "I'd be happy if they got some rain as I think the ground will probably on the fast side at the moment, which is not ideal. There is rain forecast and if that arrives we will probably let him run. If it stays dry we'll have a decision to make about whether to run or not.
"Gordon is very happy with the horse. We'd have liked to have got a run into him before now. He was to go to Punchestown a couple of weeks ago but the ground was too quick for him, unfortunately.
"The two at the top of the market (Sizing Europe and First Lieutenant) have had a run, so that's a disadvantage for us. There aren't too many places we can go between now and Christmas, so hopefully the ground is suitable and we can get him started."
Given his obvious preference for a right-handed track, the King George VI Chase at Kempton on Boxing Day is an obvious target for Mount Benbulben.
"He's going to have to step up against the older generation, but if he can do that then the King George would be an option," said Connell.
Also hoping the heavens open in Northern Ireland is Quito De La Roque's trainer Colm Murphy. The nine-year-old fell at the second last behind Sizing Europe at Gowran Park last time.
Murphy said: "We're praying for rain and hopefully we'll get some, just to help slow the others down a bit a bit as much as anything.
"He's in good form and seems fine since his fall the last day. He doesn't seem to be suffering any ill effects. Hopefully he'll run well if he gets his ground."
Champion trainer Willie Mullins is represented by Prince De Beauchene, the mount of Ruby Walsh.
Leading owners Gigginstown House Stud, whose colours are set to be carried by both First Lieutenant and Quito De La Roque, also have a third declared runner in the Elliott-trained Roi Du Mee.