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Sizing camp happy as great rival looms large.

Boylesports.com Champion Chase 5.30 Punchestown 2m Grade 1 ATR/RTE1 Card page 45 SIZING EUROPE, who lost his Queen Mother Champion Chase crown to Finian's Rainbow in controversial circumstances last month, is on the trail of a fifth Grade 1 win over fences when he clashes with old adversary Big Zeb in the feature race on day one of the Punchestown festival.

The pair have been Ireland's top 2m chasers of the post-Moscow Flyer era and are both previous winners of Cheltenham's 2m championship race.

However, while Sizing Europe - placed in this race in 2010 and again last year - will be going for his first success in the Punchestown event, Big Zeb is trying to land the prize for the second consecutive year, having beaten Henry de Bromhead's ten-year-old by three-quarters of a length 12 months ago.

That win followed Sizing Europe's defeat of Big Zeb at Cheltenham two months earlier, but all the evidence this season points to Sizing Europe having the measure of his main rival.

Sizing Europe beat Big Zeb by 15 lengths in the Tied Cottage Chase over today's course and distance in February and again finished ahead of Colm Murphy's star at Cheltenham last month despite getting involved in a barging match with Finian's Rainbow when the pair were diverted around the final fence.

De Bromhead said yesterday: "It looks competitive. It is the end of the season so you just never know, but I can say Sizing Europe seems to be very well.

"We've been happy with him since Cheltenham and everything seems good. We could have done without all the rain, but you would have to say our horse has shown he handles most types of ground."

Murphy worried about soft ground for Big Zeb While Colm Murphy reported 11-year-old Big Zeb to be in good order yesterday, he was more downbeat about the ground.

"Big Zeb seems fine," said the trainer.

"He came out of Cheltenham well but I'd be more optimistic about his chance of putting it up to Sizing Europe, and certainly finishing closer to him this time, had the ground been good. I just hope that the rain hasn't taken his chance away."

History against McCoy and Captain Cee Bee No 11-year-old has won the race since it became a level-weights contest in 1999 and, like Big Zeb, Captain Cee Bee, a Grade 1 winner at the meeting as a novice chaser two years ago and the mount of Tony McCoy, represents that age group.

McCoy has yet to win the race and his mount has not run over fences since chasing home Big Zeb and Sizing Europe a year ago.

Captain Cee Bee has been off the track since finishing eighth in the Galway Hurdle in July and his trainer, Eddie Harty, said: "We've been looking at a summer campaign for Captain Cee Bee as he isn't a winter-ground horse.

"He has to start off somewhere, although the ground being the way it is has to be a concern.

"If he runs as well as he did in the race last year, we'll be happy."

Jacob teams up with former boss Williams Grand National-winning jockey Daryl Jacob will be coming home in more ways than one when he partners Gauvain for the first time in 13 months.

Jacob will not only be enjoying a rare ride in his home country, but also a rare big-race ride for his former boss Nick Williams, whom the jockey left at the end of last season to become No.2 at Paul Nicholls' Ditcheat yard.

"It's great to be back riding in a big race for Nick," said Jacob.

"It's a shame for Noel Fehily, as Gauvain is his ride, but Noel is obviously out at the moment with a broken leg.

"I know the horse well as I ride for his owner Jared Sullivan and won the Triumph Hurdle for him on Zarkandar. Gauvain has been consistent all season and Nick thinks that this race gives him a good chance of picking up some decent prize-money."

Gauvain, who will be attempting to become the sixth British-trained winner of the event, finished 26 lengths behind Sizing Europe in the Queen Mother Champion Chase.

Walsh hopes to keep perfect record on Rock Ruby Walsh, who achieved the most recent of his three wins in the race when Master Minded beat Big Zeb by a head three years ago, rides the Mouse Morristrained China Rock, on whom he has a 100 per cent record.

Walsh's two wins on the nine-yearold include a seven-length victory over Sizing Europe over 2m7f at Punchestown in October 2010, but China Rock has not won since and has raced over today's trip only once, when fourth behind Sizing Europe over today's course in 2009.

Rain forces Meade to switch Realt Dubh Noel Meade, who was planning to try Realt Dubh over 3m in thetote.com Punchestown Gold Cup tomorrow, explained the change of plan for the eight-year-old, who lines up here.

"With all the rain and the prospect of more before Wednesday, we decided that it wouldn't be fair to run him over the longer trip for the first time on testing ground," the trainer said yesterday. Tony O'Hehir

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Big Zeb: connections hope he can land a Champion Chase repeat
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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:The Racing Post (London, England)
Date:Apr 24, 2012
Words:885
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