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Monday 6 February 2023 Dublin: 9°C
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# Starter's Orders
Mark Your Card: Punchestown Day One
Mark Hobbs has been up all night studying the form. Here are his selections for day one at the Co. Kildare racetrack.

THE KILDARE VENUE offers an intriguing card on the opening day of their end of season festival, and nothing catches the eye more than the clash of Sizing Europe, Big Zeb, Captain Cee Bee and Golden Silver in the Champion Chase.

They filled the first four places of Cheltenham’s equivalent in March respectively, where Sizing Europe emerged as a clear and impressive winner. However, despite his five-length victory he is far from certain to confirm his superiority here.

Sizing has come into his own at this time of year and the ground will certainly be to his liking today, but it’s doubtful that he will get the breakneck pace that ne needs to prosper over two-miles. His victories in Cheltenham both this year and in 2010 were enabled due to the strong pace set by the championship field, allowing him to travel prominently and putting his high cruising-speed and stamina to use.

With just six-runners going to post today he is unlikely to have a reproduction of that pace. While a pacemaking stablemate is entered, he is probably not good enough to maintain a high speed for long enough in the race.

If Sizing underperforms then Big Zeb will be favourite to strike. The ten-year-old has been prolific in winning small field graded races in Ireland, and showed his liking for the course and distance when going down by a short-head to Master Minded in the race two years ago. His victory in the 2010 Champion Chase confirmed the Wexford-owned horse as one of the best chasers around, and he lost nothing in defeat there this term.

Similarly, Golden Silver will find the race conditions to his liking. He was a surprise winner of this last year when the ground was perceived to be too fast, but he proved his versatility by powering clear of a good field. He is admirably tough and consistent; his form this season reads 2121114.

Captain Cee Bee is another with a live chance, especially considering he took the Grade One Novice Chase at this venue last season. His third at Cheltenham last time out reads well considering he was coming of the back of a long break, and he may strip fitter today.

The talented mare J’Y Vole completes the field alongside the pacemaking Changing Courses.

The Champion Novice chase over three-miles should go the way of Quito de la Roque. Colm Murphy’s chaser proved that he doesn’t need the mud to perform when taking the equivalent race at the Aintree festival, and he seems to be improving at a rate of knots.

The other Grade One on the card, the Champion Novice Hurdle, is a dangerously trappy affair with five of the seven runners vying for favouritism. Hidden Universe is entitled to improve on only his fourth run over hurdles, but it’s hard to be confident of a selection.

Nap of the Day

Quito de la Roque should prove to be a Gold Cup contender next year and to cement his place as a challenger he must win here today. His form this season has been excellent – before winning at Aintree he came up just three-quarters of a length behind subsequent RSA Chase winner Boston’s Angel. There are dangers, particularly tiredness after a long season, but at 10/3 he is certainly worth chancing given his superior form.

Each-Way

Gimli’s Rock looks over priced in the third race of the card, a competitive handicap hurdle over two miles. The five-year old has been an improver on the flat and over obstacles alike, and having been eased a little by the handicapper for a run over a trip too long he has a chance today. He will enjoy the ground, the trip and is two out of three for course and distance runs. As a best price 18/1 shot he is great each-way value.

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